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  • The Estimated Effects of College Student Involvement on Psychological Well-Being
  • Cindy A. Kilgo (bio), Amanda L. Mollet (bio), and Ernest T. Pascarella (bio)

Student affairs research touts the advantages of college student involvement such as student organization, Greek, and intramural sports involvement. Wolf-Wendel, Ward, and Kinzie (2009) described involvement, engagement, and integration as used interchangeably within the literature. Here, we use involvement as what Wolf-Wendel et al. (2009) noted as individual student responsibility and analyzed it at the student level, yet we are cognizant and aware of the similarities between involvement and engagement and the limitations our data had in distinguishing between the two.

In fact, there is extensive research focused on student involvement in college suggesting that quality involvement leads to higher levels of student learning and development (Astin, 1977, 1993; Gellin, 2003; Kuh, Kinsey, Schuh, & Whitt, 2005). Astin (1993) suggested that students significantly involved on campus have greater developmental growth than do students who are not involved or those who contribute less effort. Further, Webber, Krylow, and Zhang (2013) asserted that “students will get the most out of college when they devote time and effort to their college activities” (p. 592). The role of student involvement is dependent upon both whether students are involved and the level of involvement.

Although much of the literature on student involvement has focused on its association with aspects of cognitive learning and development (Gellin, 2003; Pike, Kuh, & Gonyea, 2003), these are not the only dimensions of student growth in college shaped by student involvement. Bowman (2010) identified a positive relationship between involvement in campus experiences during the first year of college and psychological well-being. Specifically, cocurricular involvement (i.e., student organizations, Greek life, among others) significantly predicted several aspects of psychological well-being including: students’ personal growth, positive relationships with others, and purpose in life.

Student psychological well-being is an important issue of growing interest in U.S. higher education (Kadison & DiGeronimo, 2004; Soet & Sevig, 2006). The National College Health Assessment (2014) found that increasing percentages of students experience mental health challenges (e.g., depression, anxiety, self-harm behavior). Of students reporting mental health challenges, 47.4% found it traumatic or very difficult to handle their academic work (National College Health Assessment, 2014). Additional research suggested that poor mental health [End Page 1043] (Eisenberg, Golberstein, & Hunt, 2009) and stress (Richardson, Abraham, & Bond, 2012) negatively influences students’ academic performance. Further, Kitzrow (2003) suggested that psychological distress negatively influences student retention. Based on this research, we assert that the value of students’ healthy psychological well-being is of importance to both students and institutions. Thus, we posit that the role of student involvement in influencing psychological well-being is of considerable importance.


While literature has suggested that student involvement positively contributes to psychosocial well-being for first-year students (Bowman, 2010), the purpose of our study was to further examine this finding by estimating the association between student involvement and psychological well-being over 4 years of college. The study used the conceptual framework of Pascarella’s (1985) model of assessing change of environments on student learning and development, which included institutional characteristics, environment of institution, student precollege experiences/characteristics, interactions with institutional agents, and student effort as directly or indirectly influencing student learning (Pascarella, 1985; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). This model fits well with the current study, based on the data utilized and the literature suggesting that student involvement and effort positively influences student learning and development (see Webber et al., 2013). Further, this aligned with the interchangeable use of student involvement as participation and student engagement as effort (Wolf-Wendel, Ward, & Kinzie, 2009). The following research questions guided our current study: (a) Does participation as an orientation leader, resident assistant (RA), peer educator in a nonacademic setting, in intramural sports, or in student organizations influence students’ psychological well-being at the end of the fourth year of college when controlling for all of these areas of student involvement? and (b) Do these effects vary when examining these areas of student involvement separately?


We employed data from the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education (WNS). The WNS had a longitudinal design and included...