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Perceptions of belonging: A qualitative study of Latino community college students

Elizabeth R Przymus, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


American community colleges are providing access to a growing number of Latino students entering postsecondary education. In fact, 51% of all Latinos in higher education today are enrolled in our nation's community colleges. Yet, Latino community college students have some of the lowest retention and graduation rates, despite their increased participation in these institutions. This study explored Latino students' perceptions of belonging at a community college in the Midwest. Qualitative methods were utilized in the research including focus group interviews, photo elicitation, and individual interviews. The findings revealed that some Latino students appeared to develop a clear sense of belonging, while others encountered personal and institutional barriers that impeded the development of a sense of belonging/connectedness to the college. The data showed that several environmental aspects made Latino students feel welcomed and comfortable, including the faculty and staff members, a small college atmosphere, an emphasis on personalized attention, and friendships with fellow students. There was also strong evidence indicating that having the "college experience" helped promote a sense of belonging. For a few participants who were involved on-campus, the sense of membership they experienced made them feel a part of something and that they belonged. There were mixed findings about the groups with which Latino students associated and how this impacted their experiences. Finally, having knowledge about college and being recognized for achievements in college were conditions that contributed to participants' comfort level, self-confidence, and happiness. Such conditions appeared to support the development of a sense of belonging for Latino students. Findings from the study may expand researchers' and practitioners' knowledge of the varied ways that Latino students develop (or fail to develop) a sense of belonging at a community college. Important implications exist for community college faculty and staff, as well as for educational leaders at both two- and four-year institutions who are concerned with the retention, graduation, and transfer rates of Latino community college students. Recommendations for practice and for future research are provided.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Latin American Studies|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Przymus, Elizabeth R, "Perceptions of belonging: A qualitative study of Latino community college students" (2012). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3546811.