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PROJECT TOPIC: STUDENT INVOLVEMENT: A DEVELOPMENTAL THEORY FOR HIGHER EDUCATION

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INTRODUCTION

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 findings 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 faculty—to help them design more effective learning environments.


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