Sense of Belonging

Building a Sense of Community for All

For students to have a sense of belonging, they must feel like they can relate to others in the campus community (McMillan & Chavis, 1986; Strayhorn, 2019). This is an important concept because sense of belonging impacts student persistence (Hausmann et al., 2007). As Hausmann et al. showed, universities can develop interventions that improve students’ sense of belonging. In the spring of 2020, 121,955 first-year students and 149,466 seniors from 521 bachelor’s degree-granting colleges and universities expressed degrees of agreement with statements related to their sense of belonging at their institution.

 

New in 2020! Sense of Belonging Items

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements? (Response options: Strongly agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly disagree) 

  1. I feel comfortable being myself at this institution.
  2. I feel valued by this institution.
  3. I feel like part of the community at this institution.

Did You Know?

90%of first-year students feel comfortable being themselves at their institution

80%of first-year students feel valued by their institution

80%of first-year students feel like part of the community at their institution

Belonging is Positively Correlated with Engagement and Perceived Gains

Using an average of responses to these three items to create a scale score, we find that students’ sense of belonging is positively related to engagement and student development. This relationship is particularly strong for students’ quality interactions with others on campus, their sense of institutional support, and their perceived gains in learning and development attributable to their college experiences (Table 1).

A student studies outside.

Do Your Students Feel They Belong?

View the webinar “Do Your Students Feel They Belong? Examining Sense of Belonging and Engagementwith Jillian Kinzie, Allison BrckaLorenz and Colleen Lofton, recorded on December 1, 2020 and the download the slides.
(Photo courtesy of Illinois Wesleyan University)

View the Webinar
Table 1. First-Year Relationship Between Sense of Belonging and Engagement and Perceived Gains
TopicCorrelation
Higher-Order Learning

+ +

Reflective & Integrative Learning

+

Quantitative Reasoning

+

Learning Strategies

+ +

Collaborative Learning

+

Discussions with Diverse Others

+

Student-Faculty Interaction

+

Effective Teaching Practices

+ +

Quality of Interactions

+ +

Supportive Environment

+ + +

Perceived Gains

+ + +

Key: + r > .1 (small), ++ r > .3 (medium), +++ r > .5 (large)
All correlations are positive and significant at p < .001
A student looks at a row of glowing test tubes.

Do First-Year Students of Different Backgrounds Feel They Belong?

Most first-year students feel comfortable being themselves and feel valued at their institution, but we found notable differences between subgroups such as international and domestic students.
(Photo courtesy of New Jersey Institute of Technology)

Discover how background affects belonging
A Black student smiles for the camera.

Cultivating a Sense of Belonging for Black or African American First-Year Students

Within any demographic, there is variability in sense of belonging, and by examining what relates to these differences we can identify ways to improve experiences for all.
(Photo courtesy of Ashland University)

Explore what we learned about this demographic

The sense of community and belonging and the support you feel from both staff and students has been the most fulfilling.

First-year student majoring in Neuroscience and English (language and literature) from Bucknell University

Does Sense of Belonging Relate to Persistence?

First-year students who indicated an intent to return to their institution the following year scored notably higher on sense of belonging (p < .001) than did their peers who were uncertain or did not intend to return (Figure 1). Institutions that successfully promote belonging can therefore realize higher rates of student retention.

Figure 1. First-Year Students’ Sense of Belonging by Intent to Return to the InstitutionGo to an accessible version of Figure 1 data.

Institution Stories

Three students study at a table outside at California State University Dominguez Hills.

Affirming the Importance of Belonging

California State University, Dominguez Hills

California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) is using its NSSE 2020 sense of belonging results in a variety of ways, including as part of their integrated assessment of their First Year Experience, in their routine sharing of results, and in an analysis of retention.

See what CSUDH learned
Two students walk across campus on a sunny day.

Complementary Efforts to Study and Act on Belonging

Georgia Southwestern State University

In Georgia's statewide effort to increase graduation rates, universities are designing interventions to develop productive academic mindsets such as learning from setbacks, having a sense of purpose, and finding a place in the institutional environment.

See what GSW learned
A photo of Morris Hall at Taylor University

Sense of Belonging as Validation of the Power of Community

Taylor University

Taylor University, a faith-based liberal arts institution in Upland, Indiana, teaches that community extends beyond the physical campus. They challenge students to live authentically, while also supporting others in their community—promoting belongingness via campus culture.

See what Taylor learned
A smiling student in front of a low brick wall

The Importance of Major to Sense of Belonging

The senior year is an important time for students to focus on socialization to their field and sense of belonging can matter for that integration.
(Photo courtesy of Lewis-Clark State College)

See how major affects belonging
People read in a bright, open room.

Faculty Discipline Matters to Sense of Belonging

Faculty sense of belonging and perceptions of teaching environments are important components for supporting faculty to do their best work.
(Photo courtesy of Sacred Heart University)

Explore our faculty insights

Evidence-Based Improvement in Higher Education

Center for Postsecondary Research
Indiana University
School of Education
201 N. Rose Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405-1006
Phone: 812.856.5824
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