Although the theory of involvement pioneered by CIRP founder Alexander Astin (and the later use of that theory in the “engagement” movement) has been used as an important factor in examining college success, it is still only one part of a multifaceted set of influences on college students. In particular, it is less useful when looking at students attending broad access institutions or those who are not “traditional” 18-22 year olds right out of high school. These students are often constrained by work and/or family commitments in how engaged they can be in the educationally enriching environments that tend to be promoted by engagement experts.

One of the new concepts that expands our understanding of the student experience is that of validation, and that is a focus of a new article by HERI Director Sylvia Hurtado and two HERI graduate students, Marcella Cuellar and Chelsea Guillermo-Wann published recently in the Enrollment Management Journal. Validation occurs when a faculty or staff member at an institution “takes an active interest in students and takes the initiative to reach out to them” (Hurtado, Cuellar & Guillermo-Wann, 2011, page 55). The article can be found here on the HERI website.

In the article, the authors discuss how validation is related to retention and graduation, and specifically how we in the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) have incorporated questions that capture validation into the new Diverse Learning Environments (DLE) survey. These questions have also been added to our Your First College Year (YFCY) survey, creating the ability to track validation from the first-year through sophomore and junior years.

There are 12 questions that address validation in two particular ways of looking at the concept: 1) academic validation in the classroom and 2) general interpersonal validation. The focus here is on actionable items that examine the interaction between students and others at the college or university, as well as in collecting information that reflects on both the academic as well as personal and social development.

Research on validation indicates a connection with retention, especially in retaining historically underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. As we get the results in from the 2011 YFCY and DLE surveys, look for more on how examining validation can help you understand student success in college.