Student Involvement: A Developmental Theory for Higher Education
Alexander W. Astin A student development theory based on student involvement is presented and described, and the implications for practice and research are discussed. 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 ...view middle of the document...
Quite simply, student involvement refers to the amount of physical and psychological energy that the student devotes to the academic experience. Thus, a highly involved student is one who, for example, devotes considerable energy to studying, spends much time on campus, participates actively in student organizations, and interacts frequently with faculty members and other students. Conversely, a typical uninvolved student neglects studies, spends little time on campus, abstains from extracurricular activities, and has infrequent contact with faculty members or other students. These hypothetical examples are only intended to be illustrative; there are many other possible forms of involvement, which are discussed in detail below. In certain respects the concept of involvement closely resembles the Freudian concept of cathexis, which I learned about in my former career as a clinical psychologist. Freud believed that people invest psychological energy in objects and persons outside of themselves. In other words, people can cathect on their friends, families, schoolwork, and jobs. The involvement concept also resembles closely what the learning theorists have traditionally referred to as vigilance or time-on-task. The concept of effort, although much narrower, has much in common with the concept of involvement. To give a better sense of what I mean by the term involvement, I have listed below the results of several hours that I spent recently
Originally published July 1984. Alexander W. Astin, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Los Angeles. 518 Journal of College Student Development
looking in dictionaries and a thesaurus for words or phrases that capture some of the intended meaning. Because involvement is, to me, an active term, the list uses verb forms. attach oneself to commit oneself to devote oneself to engage in go in for incline toward join in partake of participate in plunge into show enthusiasm for tackle take a fancy to take an interest in take on take part in take to take up undertake Most of these terms are behavioral in meaning. I could have also included words and phrases that are more “interior” in nature, such as value, care for, stress, accentuate, and emphasize. But in the sense that I am using the term, involvement implies a behavioral component. I am not denying that motivation is an important aspect of involvement, but rather I am emphasizing that the behavioral aspects, in my judgment, are critical: It is not so much what the individual thinks or feels, but what the individual does, how he or she behaves, that defines and identifies involvement. At this stage in its development, the involvement theory has five basic postulates: 1. Involvement refers to the investment of physical and psychological energy in various objects. The objects may be highly generalized (the student experience) or highly specific (preparing for a chemistry
examination). 2. Regardless of its object,...