Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations

Fostering Belonging: Improving Academic Outcomes Among First-Generation Students Through a Pre-Matriculation Intervention

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Kristina LaVenia (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Margaret McCubbin (Other)

Third Advisor

Julia Matuga (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Mary Murphy (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Patrick D. Pauken (Committee Member)


This study explored the influence of randomized belonging interventions on academic outcomes among first-generation college students at a mid-sized, Midwest, four-year public institution. Astin’s Input-Environment-Outcome (I-E-O) model served as the conceptual framework for investigating the impact of an environmental sense of belonging intervention on outcomes such as first-year grade point average and continuous enrollment.

A convenience sampling technique was utilized to recruit a total of 10,281 students from across three cohorts (2015, 2016, and 2017) of incoming first-time undergraduate students. Participants were invited to complete an online, text-based intervention, the College Transition Collaborative Social Belonging Intervention (CTCSBI) during the summer prior to the beginning of their first semester.

Among the sample population, 7,278 students were randomized to one of three treatment conditions. A balanced design was used to give equal representation in each condition. A non-treatment control group (N = 3,003) was included as part of a quasi-experimental component of the study.

Factorial analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was used to analyze and examine six research questions, to test the independent variables (Generation Status and Treatment Condition) with respect to the dependent variables (First-Year Grade Point Average and Continuous Enrollment), and to examine interaction effects while controlling for variables known to influence academic outcomes (High School Grade Point Average, Standardized College Entrance Exam Score, and Ethnicity).

The results of the study suggested that completing a pre-matriculation intervention significantly influenced first-year grade point average and continuous enrollment of first-generation college students. This study and the related findings are especially important given the opportunity for such interventions to address and reduce achievement gaps of underserved students, align university initiatives with state performance funding models, and foster an ethic of care among campus communities.