Participatory Equity and Student Outcomes in Living-Learning Programs of Differing Thematic Types

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This study evaluated participatory equity in varying thematic types of living-learning programs and, for a subset of student group × program type combinations found to be below equity, used latent mean modeling to determine whether statistically significant mean differences existed between the outcome scores of living-learning participants and their peers in traditional residence hall environments. This study employs a conceptual framework informed by Astin's (1991) IEO model and Pascarella and Terenzini's (1980) model of structural mediation in residential environments, and is based on data collected as part of the 2007 National Study of Living-Learning Programs.

First, a team of raters used descriptive content analytic techniques to identify a typology of living-learning programs consisting of 41 specific thematic types, based on those programs' stated goals and objectives. That typology was the basis for computing Hao's (2002) equity indices, which were used to determine whether students from different racial/ethnic groups or socioeconomic statuses were under- or over-represented in specific thematic types of living-learning programs, relative to their representation in living-learning programs overall. Twenty-two race/ethnicity × type combinations exhibited low levels of participatory equity, as did 13 socioeconomic status × type combinations.

Three group × type combinations were selected for latent mean modeling, including: (a) Asian/Pacific Islander students in disciplinary, general academic, honors programs; (b) White students in international/global programs; and (c) low-SES students in honors programs. The outcome of interest for Asian/Pacific Islander and low-SES students was ease of academic transition, and, for White students, diversity appreciation. Analyses revealed that although L/L participants reported higher mean scores on measures of several key living and learning environments, no statistically significant mean difference in outcome measures was observed.

In the face of the participatory inequities found in this national sample of living-learning programs, the primary implication for student affairs practitioners generally is that the exploration of equity in high-impact practices for students--and involvement and engagement opportunities for all members of the university community--is warranted. This implication is indicated for living-learning practitioners as well, who can also take findings vis-à-vis the relationship between key living and learning environments and specific student outcomes in to account when designing and improving the programs with which they work. Finally, living-learning practitioners should consider whether the relatively small differences in environment measures and the lack of detectable differences in outcome measures is driven by weak treatments, weak measures, or both.