Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Are All Student Organizations Created Equal? the Differences and Implications of Student Participation in Academic versus Non-Academic Organizations

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Are All Student Organizations Created Equal? the Differences and Implications of Student Participation in Academic versus Non-Academic Organizations

Article excerpt

This study examined differences between participation in academic and non-academic student organizations at a large, predominantly White, public research institution. A survey of 354 undergraduates revealed that students joined academic organizations to prepare for their futures while students joined non-academic organizations for immediate benefits such as making friends. Both groups indicated that their expectations were met and that they experienced personal benefits directed towards their goals, such as gains in field knowledge for students involved in academic organizations and interpersonal skill development for students in non-academic organizations. Implications for how administrators structure and direct students toward involvement opportunities are discussed.

Astin's (1984) theory of involvement states that what students put into their college experiences, in terms of physical and psychological energy, they will get back in learning. Kuh (1995) reiterated that "the involvement principle is simple but powerful: the more time and energy students expend in educationally purposeful activities, the more they benefit" (p. 125). Research has supported the idea that students who become engaged with their college community enjoy specific benefits such as learning skills, acquiring knowledge, completing their degrees, and an easier path to obtaining employment (Abrahamowicz, 1988; Boyer, 1987; Kuh, 1995; Moore, Lovell, McGann, & Wyrick, 1998; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).

One way students become engaged in their campus community is to join student organizations that meet their specific interests. In a study of what constitutes a successful collegiate environment, Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, and Whitt (2005) concluded that successful institutions were those who had a "wellspring of...cocurricular offerings that involve students in campus life, connect them to the institution, and provide leadership opportunities" (p. 238).

Research has demonstrated, however, that students do gain more than just being connected to campus life or developing leadership skills. Baxter Magolda (1992) discovered that students' involvement in organizations gave mem access to peers who then provided friendship, support, and knowledge. In addition, students reported beneficial experiences such as obtaining hands-on learning and being given increasing responsibility for organizational tasks. As the author concluded, "organizational involvement served a variety of purposes ranging from friendship opportunities to practical experience" (p. 208).

Kuh (1993) observed similar results in a study of what students learn outside of the classroom. He found that students were aware of a variety of developmental outcomes they obtained from their involvement experiences. However, he was surprised that academic outcomes were not mentioned by many students and when they were, they came from academically-driven environments such as laboratory experiences rather that involvement in student organizations.

Most of the research conducted on student organizational involvement has classified it in the broadest sense, assuming all organizations offer the same outcomes. College campuses today have a wide range of organizations to meet students' academic and personal interests. Beeny (2003) suggested that research might need to focus on "examining whether different types of student organizations influence the amount of expressed learning or the skills or competencies students report gaining" (p. 87). Gellin (2003) echoed the suggestion saying that "traditionally, scholars have used the moniker dubs and organisations to represent the large number of sponsored activities available on college campuses" but that the broad focus may not provide an accurate view of what those groups offer (p. 759).

The purpose of this study was to examine differences between academic and non-academic-categories of student organizations. Academic organizations were defined as those sponsored by academic colleges or departments such as Student Engineers' Council or the Society of American Foresters. …

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