Alternative Break Programs and the Factors that Contribute to Changes in Students' Lives

Thumbnail Image


Publication or External Link






The purpose of this study was to explore the extent to and ways in which student participants in Alternative Break (AB) programs report that their AB experience influenced their intentions or plans to volunteer, engage in advocacy, or study or travel abroad, or their major or career plans. Additional analysis explored the specific program characteristics related to the influence of the AB experience on students' lives in these six ways, and differences between domestic and international AB programs. The theoretical basis of this study was provided by Mezirow's (1991, 1997, 2000) theory of Transformative Learning, Fishbein and Ajzen's (1975) theory of Reasoned Action, and Etzioni (1992) theory of Normative-Affective Decision Making. Building on these three theories, Astin's (1991) Inputs-Environments-Outcomes (IEO) model provided structure to the analysis and interpretation of the relationships between student, program, and institutional characteristics and the outcomes in question.

The data from this study were collected as part of the National Survey of Alternative Breaks, a multi-institutional survey of students who participated in Alternative Spring Break programs in 2011. Overall 2187 students responded to the survey, representing 443 separate AB trips and 97 colleges and universities. Data from the survey were analyzed following the above conceptual framework (modified to account for the nesting of the data) using descriptive analysis and hierarchical linear modeling (HLM).

The results of this study show that students overwhelmingly do report that their AB experience influences these outcomes, and there are a number of program characteristics related to the influence of the AB programs. The extent to which students were emotionally challenged and able to connect their AB experience to larger social issues, the frequency with which students wrote in individual journals, the amount students learned from their interactions with community members and other students on their trip, and the comprehensiveness of the reorientation program after returning to campus were all significant, positive predictors of all or most of the outcomes explored. Finally, an international program location was significantly related to the influence of the AB experience on students' intentions or plans to study or travel abroad.