Higher Education and Community Development: A Multi-Stakeholder View on the Correlates of Project Participation and Design Preferences

Open Access
Author:
Olson, Bradley Louis
Graduate Program:
Agricultural and Extension Education
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
March 05, 2019
Committee Members:
  • Mark A Brennan Jr., Dissertation Advisor
  • Mark A Brennan Jr., Committee Chair
  • Rama B Radhakrishna, Committee Member
  • Nicole Sheree Webster, Committee Member
  • Jacqueline Edmondson, Outside Member
  • Theodore Roberts Alter, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • higher education
  • community development
  • participation
  • engagement
  • project design
  • social interaction
Abstract:
In recent decades, the United States has seen a decline in community participation and increased calls for higher education to reconnect with the public through the scholarship of engagement. Engagement is the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources among university and community stakeholders in a context of partnership and reciprocity. Engagement can benefit institutions and communities while helping address the decline of community participation by fostering greater commitment to local action. The Pennsylvania State University (PSU) is actively working to identify engagement opportunities and increase participation across Pennsylvania (PA) through its Student Engagement Network and Faculty Academy, but more participation data and research are needed. This applied research study sought to inform PSU’s engagement strategy by measuring and modeling stakeholder participation from an interactional field theory perspective. The study collected online survey data from over 1,600 PSU (students, faculty, administrators) and PA (county- and municipal-elected leaders) respondents in February and March 2018. Three objectives guided the research: 1) test hypothesized relationships between students and faculty members’ willingness to participate (WTP) in a community project (dependent variable) and community satisfaction, community desirability, community attachment, community involvement, social interaction, social circle cohesion, and sociodemographics (independent variables); 2) develop a reduced multivariate model to predict WTP; and 3) described stakeholders’ project design preferences and perspectives on PSU’s role in community development. Multiple linear regression analysis showed four variables (community attachment, community involvement, previous project participation, and class standing) were significantly (p<.05 level) related to students’ WTP and accounted for 25.3% of score variance. Four variables (community involvement, social circle cohesion, previous project participation, and length of residence) were significantly related to faculty members’ WTP and accounted for 17.6% of score variance. Mutual project preferences included: working with residents, elected leaders, and faculty; meeting in the community or on a nearby campus; communicating in-person or by email; and working toward improved conditions, increased resource awareness, and increased knowledge. Stakeholders thought Penn State should regularly offer development assistance through non-profit and public sector-focused research, formal degrees, and non-formal training. Views on project responsibility were mixed. Recommendations for future research, policy, and practice are discussed.