Black, White, and Biracial Students’ Engagement at Differing Institutional Types
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Black, White, and Biracial Students’ Engagement at Differing Institutional Types

Student engagement is “characterized as participation in educationally effective practices, both inside and outside the classroom, which leads to a range of measurable outcomes” (Harper & Quaye, 2015, p. 2), such as college persistence (Astin, 1993; Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinzie, & Gonyea, 2008; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Stage & Hossler, 2000). Engagement involves both the time and effort students put into educationally effective practices, as well as the time and effort institutions put into engaging students (Kuh, 2001; Kuh, Kinzie, Buckley, Bridges, & Hayek, 2007; Wolf-Wendel, Ward, & Kinzie, 2009). Student engagement, however, is not a monolithic phenomenon; therefore, researchers have begun to explore engagement for students with different racial identities across diverse institutional types, including minority serving institutions and predominantly White institutions (PWIs; see Flowers, 2002; Nelson Laird, Bridges, Morelon-Quainoo, Williams, & Holmes, 2007; Outcalt & Skewes-Cox, 2002).

Findings from these studies suggest that Black students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) may be more engaged than their Black peers at PWIs (Allen, 1992; Nelson Laird et al., 2007; Outcalt & Skewes-Cox, 2002). Some researchers have also studied differences in engagement between Black students and White students attending a PWI (DeSousa & King, 1992), between Black students attending PWIs and Black students attending HBCUs (Chen, Ingram, & Davis, 2014) and engagement for White students’ at HBCUs (Carter & Fountaine, 2012). While previous researchers explored Black students’ engagement and/or White students’ engagement within one institutional type, there remains a dearth in research comparing Black and White students’ engagement within multiple institutional types.

Within this study, we are interested in engagement practices for Black students, White students, and the mixed-race college student population at HBCUs and non-HBCUs. From 2010 to 2014, the mixed-race college student population enrolled in US postsecondary degree granting institutions nearly doubled (Snyder, de Brey, & Dillow, 2015). Detailed information on the enrollment trends for mixed-race students at HBCUs is difficult to find; however, the population of students at HBCUs who do not identify as Black continues to increase alongside a growing mixed-race college student population across institutional types (Gasman, 2013; Snyder et al., 2015). In preparing for this study, we could not locate any empirical research that explored engagement for mixed-race students between or within HBCUs and non-HBCUs. In fact, we did not find any empirical studies that explicitly focused on mixed-race students’ engagement practices in higher education. This gap in research leaves the field under-informed about mixed-race [End Page 783] students’ engagement practices between and within differing institutional types. It is also important to empirically explore mixed-race students’ engagement practices because the literature suggests that some mixed-race students have different racialized experiences (Museus, Lambe Sariñana, Yee & Robinson, 2016; Renn, 2003) and hold differing perceptions of campus climate (Hurtado, Ruiz Alvarado, & Guillermo-Wann, 2015; Nelson Laird & Niskodé-Dossett, 2010) than their monoracial peers. Thus, mixed-race students may engage differently on campus than their monoracial peers (see Ozaki & Renn, 2015).

Our study rests on the three conceptual premises outlined above. First, increased student engagement is better for students. Second, racial identity and institutional type often influence students’ engagement practices. Third, mixed-race students may experience race differently than their monoracial peers. What is underexplored, however, is whether differences in engagement exist for Black students, White students, and mixed-race students within HBCUs and non-HBCUs, as well as whether differences in engagement exist between mixed-race students enrolled at HBCUs and non-HBCUs. This gap in the literature led us to ask the following research questions:

  1. 1. How does engagement compare for Black, White, and biracial students with Black and White heritage within HBCUs and non-HBCUs?

  2. 2. How does engagement compare for biracial students with Black and White heritage between HBCUs and non-HBCUs?

Prior to detailing study methods, it is important to briefly explain the two main reasons we focused on biracial students with Black and White heritage. First, studying mixed-race students as a monolithic group is often misleading because the mixed-race population has diverse experiences due to their racial/ethnic makeup, lived realities, and histories (see Osei-Kofi...