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An Exploration of Discrimination, Sense of Belonging, and Persistence among Students in Higher Education
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Despite the benefits of higher education and increasing enrollment at many universities, a number of students who enroll in postsecondary institutions fail to complete their degree. Data show persistence and degree attainment differ by gender and race, which may indicate social factors or social experiences not addressed within common conceptual persistence and retention frameworks. The objective of this dissertation is to assess the role of discrimination and the sense of belonging in college students’ educational persistence through three manuscripts that analyze data obtained from the Health Mind Study (HMS). The central hypothesis is that sense of belonging and discrimination have a significant and unique impact on persistence beyond the influence of relevant demographic and social factors. The results from this dissertation indicated that discrimination and sense of belonging are significant factors in predicting students’ confidence in their ability to overcome challenges to graduate. The students who indicated that they were not confident in their ability to finish their degree were 1.42 (95% CI [1.118, 1.79]) times more likely to report experiencing discrimination frequently and were 0.76 (95% CI [0.709, 0.824]) times less likely to score high on the sense of belonging scale. The frequency of discrimination is racialized, then gendered. White women were likely to report experiencing discrimination more often than White men, but less often than all men of color. The men of color, however, reported more frequently experiencing discrimination compared to women of the same racial identity. There were also significant racial and gender differences in students’ sense of belonging, yet, students’ sense of belonging was significantly affected by housing arrangements and participation in extracurricular activities. The findings offer insights into the lived experience of diverse students and prompt rethinking of retention initiatives. Institutions must make additional efforts to decrease discrimination on campus and enhance students' sense of belonging through in order to significantly impact on persistence.
Jackson, Zachary A. (2019). An Exploration of Discrimination, Sense of Belonging, and Persistence among Students in Higher Education. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from