You Belong Here: A Data Driven Look at Student Sense of Belonging

 In IE Blog

By: Stella Vlahakis + Andrew Nguyen

The past few years have been filled with a fear of the unknown, a decrease in the things we once got to enjoy, and FaceTime instead of hugs with loved ones. Feeling a sense of belonging is more important now than ever. Nevertheless, this phenomenon isn’t anything new. It even dates back to one of the most notable theories of all time, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943). Love and Belonging are not just human wants, but they’re needs. After physiological and safety needs have been fulfilled, the need for connection is next in line.

Since then, sense of belonging has been included in numerous theories, particularly in relation to education. As cited in Gopalan and Brady, 2020, “In college, feeling a sense of belonging may lead students to engage more deeply with their studies, leading to persistence and success. In both experimental (Yeager et al., 2016) and correlational (Strayhorn, 2012) studies, researchers have found that students who feel they belong seek out and use campus resources to a greater extent, furthering their success. In addition, belonging may buffer students from stress, improving mental health (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). That’s why at Northern Essex Community College (NECC), we pour a lot of energy into obtaining this data as well as analyzing it to better understand our student body and develop well informed recommendations that can foster a welcoming and accepting campus climate.

In a previous blog post, we cover the background of our Integrated Student Experience Survey, with a focus on measuring sense of belonging in relation to asynchronous courses and our Student Ambassadors.

This time, let’s take a look at how we did overall:

  • The number of responses between Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 increased by 48.7% despite the number of enrolled students falling by 14.3%, resulting in an over 10 percentage point increase in response rate between semesters! This is attributable to creating a robust outreach campaign and students being entered into a raffle for a free laptop for completing the survey.

The sense of belonging questions we include in our survey and NECC’s average scores:

With the exception of one question, the sense of belonging response scores in Spring 2022 are higher than the corresponding question(s) in Fall 2021 across the board.

  • Respondents select from Strongly disagree (1), Somewhat disagree (2), Neither agree nor disagree (3), Somewhat agree (4), and Strongly agree (5)
  • The Fall 2021 question “Faculty and staff care about my success” was split into two questions in Spring 2022, to properly differentiate between the two (1. Staff care about my success and 2. My instructors care about my success.)

With this data, we’re able to compare sense of belonging figures between different groups of students based on how they responded to demographic questions on the survey. This allows us to see if there are certain populations of students that may have lagging scores. It also allows us to see if students that participate in certain school programs might have a statistically significant difference in sense of belonging scores compared to students that aren’t involved in said programs. With surveys being run across multiple semesters, this allows us a way to evaluate how school programs are doing, and furthermore, if any changes made to the programs between semesters might be positively affecting student sense of belonging or not! With these data driven methods, we strive to improve our students’ sense of belonging and hope it translates into better odds for success.

If you’re still reading this, just remember, you matter and you belong here.

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