Developmental Stage

Publication Type

Social isolation, anxiety, and depression have significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic among college students. We examine a key protective factor—students’ sense of belonging with their college—to understand (1) how belongingness varies overall and for key sociodemographic groups (first-generation, underrepresented racial/ethnic minority students, first-year students) amidst COVID-19 and (2) if feelings of belonging buffer students from adverse mental health in college.

Longitudinal models and regression analysis was assessed using data from a longitudinal study of college students (N = 1,004) spanning (T1; Fall 2019) and amidst COVID-19 (T2; Spring 2020).

Despite reporting high levels of belonging pre- and post-COVID, consistent with past research, underrepresented racial/ethnic minority/first-generation students reported relatively lower sense of belonging compared to peers. Feelings of belonging buffered depressive symptoms and to a lesser extent anxiety amidst COVID among all students.

College students’ sense of belonging continues to be an important predictor of mental health even amidst the pandemic, conveying the importance of an inclusive climate.

Broad-access institutions play a democratizing role in American society, opening doors to many who might not otherwise pursue college. Yet these institutions struggle with persistence and completion. Do feelings of nonbelonging play a role, particularly for students from groups historically disadvantaged in higher education? Is belonging relevant to students’ persistence—even when they form the numerical majority, as at many broad-access institutions? We evaluated a randomized intervention aimed at bolstering first-year students’ sense of belonging at a broad-access university (N = 1,063). The intervention increased the likelihood that racial-ethnic minority and first-generation students maintained continuous enrollment over the next two academic years relative to multiple control groups. This two-year gain in persistence was mediated by greater feelings of social and academic fit one-year post-intervention. Results suggest that efforts to address belonging concerns at broad-access, majority-minority institutions can improve core academic outcomes for historically disadvantaged students at institutions designed to increase college accessibility.

In a nationally representative sample, first-year U.S. college students “somewhat agree,” on average, that they feel like they belong at their school. However, belonging varies by key institutional and student characteristics; of note, racial-ethnic minority and first-generation students report lower belonging than peers at 4-year schools, while the opposite is true at 2-year schools. Further, at 4-year schools, belonging predicts better persistence, engagement, and mental health even after extensive covariate adjustment. Although descriptive, these patterns highlight the need to better measure and understand belonging and related psychological factors that may promote college students’ success and well-being.

This research snapshot summarizes a project led by Maithreyi Gopalan as part of the National Study of Learning Mindsets Early Career Fellowship. The study adapts empirical methods stemming from advancements in econometrics and program evaluation to estimate the effect of the growth mindset intervention used in the National Study of Learning Mindsets on students' learning-oriented behavior (specifically, challenge seeking) and how this effect varied from school to school.

This article reports findings from the largest-ever randomized controlled trial of a growth mindset program in the United States in K-12 settings. The study combined a test for cause-and-effect (a randomized experiment) with a sample that enables claims about an entire population (a nationally representative probability sample). The study found that a short (less than one hour), online growth mindset intervention—which teaches that intellectual abilities can be developed—improved grades among lower-achieving students and increased enrollment in advanced mathematics courses among both higher- and lower-achieving students in a nationally representative sample of regular public high schools in the United States. Notably, the study identified school contexts that moderated the effects of the growth mindset intervention: the intervention had a stronger effect on grades when peer norms aligned with the messages of the intervention. In addition to its rigorous design, the study also featured independent data collection and processing, pre-registration of analyses, and corroboration of results by a blinded Bayesian analysis.

The National Study of Learning Mindsets (NSLM) is a randomized trial evaluating an intervention in a national sample of schools that were selected to participate via probability sampling methods. The response rate for this study was 56%. This paper evaluates whether site-level non-response compromises the generalizability of the results from the achieved sample of schools in the NSLM. Comparisons of characteristics of schools taking part in the NSLM relative to national benchmarks shows that the NSLM sample has a high degree of similarity to the population of all regular, U.S. public high schools with at least 25 students in 9th grade and in which 9th grade is the lowest grade, via two metrics. Thus, full-sample estimates and conditional estimates (within school achievement and racial composition subgroups) are likely to be highly generalizable to the corresponding populations of inference.