Sense of Belonging is Linked to Ratings of Overall University Experience

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Belonging is widely recognized as an important concept for understanding campus climate. Studies at UMass Amherst and nationally find that individuals’ sense of belonging is tied to their overall evaluation of the campus environment and their institutional commitment. For example, in a retention study conducted by the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment (OAPA) (requires UMass sign-in), undergraduates’ sense of belonging was among the strongest predictors of one-year retention. This relationship between belonging and institutional commitment and retention is echoed in other research, including studies that focus on students’ sense of belonging across varied social identities (see, for example, Eunyoung, K. & Irwin, J.P., 2013; Gopalan, M., & Brady, S. T. 2020; Hausmann, L.R.M., Schofield, J.W., & Woods, R.L., 2007)1.

Results from the current campus climate survey further support the importance of considering feelings of belonging when evaluating campus climates. The graph below shows the relationship between undergraduates’ sense of belonging at UMass Amherst and their evaluation of their overall experience at the university. Among undergraduates who indicated feeling like they belong “to a great extent,” 46 percent evaluate their overall experience at UMass Amherst as “Excellent.” For those who feel they belong “to no extent,” only 1 percent rate their overall experience at UMass Amherst as “Excellent” -- and 32 percent rate their overall experience as “Poor.”

If you use the “Select Population” drop-down menu (top right corner) to view this bar chart for each population, you will see that a stark association between sense of belonging and individuals’ evaluations of their overall university experience is common across all four populations (undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and faculty). These results and others suggest that developing a deeper understanding of sense of belonging among members of our campus community is likely to provide important insights about recruitment and retention of students, staff, and faculty. Exploration of belonging by intersecting social identity aspects is key to developing a deeper understanding of belonging, including identification of sub-groups for whom sense of belonging is elusive. The CCS research team will be undertaking deeper dives on this front over the next several months. 

1) Eunyoung, K. & Irwin, J.P. (2013). College Students’ Sense of Belonging: A key to educational success for all students by Terrell L. Strayhorn (review). The review of Higher Education, 37 (1). 119-122 (Review). Gopalan, M., & Brady, S. T. (2020). College students’ sense of belonging: A national perspective. Educational Researcher, 49(2), 134–137. Hausmann, L.R.M., Schofield, J.W., & Woods, R.L. (2007). Sense of belonging as a predictor of intentions to persist among African American and white first-year college students. Research in Higher Education, 48(7), 803-839. 3.