Student Involvement Article

Topics: Theory, Learning, University Pages: 12 (7404 words) Published: February 25, 2015
Student Involvement: A Developmental Theory
for Higher Education
Alexander W. Astin
A student development theory based on student
involvement is presented and described, and the
implications for practice and research are

faculty—to help them design more effective
learning environments.

Even a casual reading of the extensive literature
on student development in higher education can
create confusion and perplexity. One finds not
only that the problems being studied are highly
diverse but also that investigators who claim to
be studying the same problem frequently do not
look at the same variables or employ the same
methodologies. And even when they are investigating the same variables, different investigators may use completely different terms to describe
and discuss these variables.
My own interest in articulating a theory of
student development is partly practical—I would
like to bring some order into the chaos of the
literature—and partly self-protective. I and
increasingly bewildered by the muddle of
f indings that have emerged from my own
research in student development, research that I
have been engaged in for more than 20 years.
The theory of student involvement that I
describe in this article appeals to me for several
reasons. First, it is simple: I have not needed to
draw a maze consisting of dozens of boxes
interconnected by two-headed arrows to explain
the basic elements of the theory to others.
Second, the theory can explain most of the
empirical knowledge about environmental
influences on student development that researchers have gained over the years. Third, it is capable of embracing principles from such
widely divergent sources as psychoanalysis and
classical learning theory. Finally, this theory of
student involvement can be used both by
researchers to guide their investigation of student
development—and by college administrators and

Let me first explain what I mean by involvement,
a construct that should not be either mysterious
or esoteric. Quite simply, student involvement
refers to the amount of physical and psychological energy that the student devotes to the academic experience. Thus, a highly involved
student is one who, for example, devotes
considerable energy to studying, spends much
time on campus, participates actively in student
organizations, and interacts frequently with
faculty members and other students. Conversely,
a typical uninvolved student neglects studies,
spends little time on campus, abstains from
extracurricular activities, and has infrequent
contact with faculty members or other students.
These hypothetical examples are only intended
to be illustrative; there are many other possible
forms of involvement, which are discussed in
detail below.
In certain respects the concept of involvement closely resembles the Freudian concept of cathexis, which I learned about in my former
career as a clinical psychologist. Freud believed
that people invest psychological energy in objects
and persons outside of themselves. In other
words, people can cathect on their friends,
families, schoolwork, and jobs. The involvement
concept also resembles closely what the learning
theorists have traditionally referred to as
vigilance or time-on-task. The concept of effort,
although much narrower, has much in common
with the concept of involvement.
To give a better sense of what I mean by
the term involvement, I have listed below the
results of several hours that I spent recently

Originally published July 1984. Alexander W. Astin, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Los Angeles.

Journal of College Student Development

Developmental Theory

looking in dictionaries and a thesaurus for words
or phrases that capture some of the intended
meaning. Because involvement is, to me, an
active term, the list uses verb forms.
attach oneself to
commit oneself to

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