The Effort-Outcome Gap: Differences for African American and Hispanic Community College Students in Student Engagement and Academic Achievement

By Greene, Thomas G.; Marti, C. Nathan et al. | Journal of Higher Education, September-October 2008 | Go to article overview

The Effort-Outcome Gap: Differences for African American and Hispanic Community College Students in Student Engagement and Academic Achievement


Greene, Thomas G., Marti, C. Nathan, McClenney, Kay, Journal of Higher Education


Little in higher education seems more intractable than the access and achievement gaps between ethnic groups. White students consistently outdistance African Americans and Hispanics in both enrollment and academic performance (Bailey, Jenkins, & Leinbach, 2005; Cook & Cordova, 2006; Price, 2004). African American and Hispanic college students typically exhibit greater academic risk than their White counterparts; they are more likely to be first in their families to attend college (Bailey et al., 2005; Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998), they are more likely to begin college academically under-prepared and in need of financial assistance, they are more likely to juggle full-time work and family responsibilities with their studies (Horn & Premo, 1995), and they are more likely to confront institutional and cultural barriers (Harris & Kayes, 1996; Rendon, 1994; Zamani, 2000). They also perform below their non-minority peers academically in terms of grades, persistence, and goal completion (Harvey, 2001; Price, 2004; Swail, 2003). Despite the negative relationships between minority status and academic performance, African American and Hispanic students report being more engaged in college than their White peers (CCSSE, 2005; Hu & Kuh, 2002; Swigart & Murrell, 2001).

Student engagement represents the effort, both in time and energy, students commit to educationally purposeful activities as well as the institutional conditions that encourage students to engage in such practices (Kuh, 2001). A large body of evidence highlights the positive effect that student engagement has on desired outcomes in college (Astin, 1993a, 1993b; Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, & Whitt, 2005; NSSE, 2000, 2003; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Recent studies suggest that engagement may be particularly important for minority and academically underprepared first-year college students (Cruce, Wolniak, Seifert, & Pascarella, 2006; Kuh, Kinzie, Cruce, Shoup, & Gonyea, 2007).

The primary aim of the study is to understand the relationships between minority status and student engagement and minority status and academic outcomes in two-year colleges. Specifically, this study seeks to determine whether students from various racial and ethnic groups attending two-year colleges differ in the amount of time and energy they devote to educationally effective practices and to determine the extent to which this investment, net of the effect from various pre-college variables, contributes positively to desired outcomes. The focus of this examination is limited to community college students, who as a group are more likely to be in the ethnic minority (Bailey et al.) and possess greater academic risk than their four-year peers (Horn & Nevill, 2006). While voluminous work documents the positive impact of student engagement on academic outcomes, minimal student engagement research has been conducted in community colleges, particularly that which focuses on minority student achievement and persistence (Pascarella, 1997; Townsend, Donaldson, & Wilson, 2004). Contributions to understanding the engagement-outcome relationship for African American and Hispanic students attending community college, therefore, have important implications for educational leaders and policy experts concerned with eliminating the racial disparities in educational attainment.

Racial Disparities in Educational Attainment

One of the most unrelenting challenges confronting higher education is a participation and achievement gap between ethnic groups. For example, U.S. Census Bureau data indicate 60.6% of Asian and 42.8% of White, compared to 32.7% of African American and 24.8% of Hispanic, 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in degree-granting institutions in 2005. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that between 2001 and 2003, an average of 66.4% of White students transitioned to college immediately after completing high school in contrast to only 57. …

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