Re-Conceptualizing Student Engagement: Investigating the Validity of CCSSE Benchmarks as Predictors of Academic Achievement and Sense of Belonging among International Students
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Background: In recent years, community colleges have witnessed an influx of international students. During the 2017-2018 academic year 94,562 international students studied in U.S. community colleges, representing 9.1% of total international enrollment in the U.S. Studies highlight the numerous challenges faced by international students, including homesickness, language barriers, culture shock, and discrimination. Despite these challenges, few studies investigate the engagement experiences of international students in community colleges. Purpose: This study investigated how international students engage in educationally purposeful activities, and how such engagement impacts their academic achievement and sense of belonging. Specifically, the study addressed the following research questions: 1) What are the socio-demographic, pre-college, and academic characteristics of international students studying at U.S. community colleges?; 2) To what extent are the five benchmarks of effective educational practices from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) valid constructs of international student engagement in the community college context?; 3) What is the relationship between the five CCSSE benchmarks and the academic achievement of international students?, and; 4) What is the relationship between the five CCSSE benchmarks and the sense of belonging of international students? Methods: The data used for this quantitative study was obtained from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, containing a 25% random sample of a three-year cohort of students located in 47 states (n = 107,429) beginning in Fall 2013. International students represent 6.1% of the sample (n=6,739). Background and pre-college characteristics, engagement benchmark scores, GPA and sense of belonging scores were examined using the International Student Engagement Model as a guiding conceptual framework. Data analysis for the first research question included descriptive statistics, including means, standard deviations, proportional distributions and frequencies. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses were used to answer the second research question to establish the five-factor structure of the CCSSE model. A multinomial logistic regression was employed to answer the third research question to examine the relationship between engagement benchmarks and academic achievement. The final research question used a multivariate regression analysis to identify the variables significantly related to sense of belonging. Results: Data reduction analysis indicated that the original CCSSE benchmarks were a poor fit of the data for international students. Factor analysis yielded constructs with underlying items considerably different to those in the original CCSSE structure. Parental financial support, student effort, academic challenge, and environmental support were significant positive predictors of higher GPA scores among international students. Regression results found that environmental support was the strongest predictor of international students’ sense of belonging in general, while active and collaborative learning was a negative predictor of sense of belonging with faculty. Discussion and Implications: Findings highlight the role of environmental support on the sense of belonging of international students. Recommendations focus on building more inclusive campus climates for international students through stronger intercultural training of faculty and staff. Encouraging international students to participate in class through online discussion forums, peer mentoring programs, and increased efforts from academic advisors also assist in promoting greater sense of belonging among international students.