Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations

An Exploration of the Effects of Student Characteristics and Engagement Practices on Academic Success for Low-Income Students

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Michael Dannells (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Ellen Broido (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Michael Coomes (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

William Knight (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Shannon Orr (Committee Member)


This study explored the academic success of low-income students in relation to engagement variables to determine an engagement model best suited for low-income students. Specifically, Astin's Input-Environment-Outcome (I-E-O) model was used to investigate the differences among the stated variables. The input variables for this study were gender, student of color status, income level, first-generation status, and high school GPA. The environmental variables were compromised of the five benchmarks from the National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE) and two campus variables specific to Bowling Green State University (participation in a residential learning community and a first-year course). The outcome variable for this study was academic success. The sample was 349 first-year students who had completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the NSSE instrument in 2000, 2001, or 2003.

To address the research questions t-tests, chi-squares, correlations, and a path analysis were conducted. The results indicated that the differences in the input variable of student of color status were significantly related to the environmental variables of enriching educational experiences and participation in a first-year course. The input variable of high school GPA was related to the environmental variable of active and collaborative learning, and the outcome variable of academic success. The input variable of first-generation status was related to the environmental variable of participation in a residential learning community. The environmental variable of supportive campus environments was related to the outcome variable of academic success. Finally, the adjusted model created by these results was tested but demonstrated an overall poor fit to explain academic success. Based on the input and environmental variables tested, this data set did not explain academic success at Bowling Green State University.

This research does not support previous literature findings that indicated low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students struggle with academic success. Consideration of this phenomenon is discussed along with specific implications for Bowling Green State University. Broader policy recommendations are presented in relation to the retention and graduation of low-income students.