SOCIAL CAPITAL, CIVIC ENGAGEMENT, AND SUCCESS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Senior Seminar in Political Science
April 8, 2011
This paper could not have been completed without the help of several people, and it would be incomplete to publish it without expressing due thanks. First, Trent M. Rose, my advisor for this paper, for providing helpful feedback and placing my feet on solid ground with respect to my understanding of the importance of civic engagement in our communities, and whose dissertation provided an outline for this study. Second, Garrett Saunders, whose assistance with the statistical analysis of the survey used for this paper, was invaluable and without whose help this could not have been completed. Third, all of the participants who willingly took time out of their busy school schedules to answer a thorough survey about their lives and academic experiences, many of whom wrote helpful and encouraging words of feedback throughout this process. As much as I am indebted to these people for their help, I alone am responsible for the content of this paper.
In an April 29, 2009 speech, while explaining the importance of educational achievement in America, President Barack Obama said, ―There are few things as fundamental to the American dream or as essential for America‘s success as a good education. This has never been more true than it is today‖ (Obama 2009, emphasis added). This paper examines what part social capital and civic engagement play in the success of students in higher education. Given what is known about the vast array of benefits that accompany high levels of civic engagement and social capital in a number of different areas of life (Rose 2006), it seems wise to make an effort to determine the extent to which civic engagement and social capital play a role in determining outcomes of student achievement in higher education. Interestingly, this is not something the academic community has done. Hence, this study ventures into largely uncharted waters and conducts new research while relying only peripherally on secondary sources for illumination about the role of civic engagement and social capital in determining educational success at one institution of higher education, Brigham Young University-Idaho. Given what is already known about the positive effects that high civic engagement and social capital tend to have on society as a whole, the author proposes that high levels of civic engagement and social capital will tend to be positively correlated with high levels of educational achievement. Although politicians are known more for making statements based more on ideology and political correctness than on well-researched facts, when President Obama proclaimed the importance of attaining a good education, he was on solid secular ground. In 2000, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education noted that ―For most Americans, college is no
longer one of many routes to middle-class life, but a requirement for employment that makes such a life possible‖ (Callan 2000, emphasis added). If one accepts that obtaining a good education truly is fundamental to success in modern America, then discovering determinants of educational success is essential to helping America‘s higher education participants achieve individual and collective academic fulfillment.
Certainly Socioeconomic background, academic preparation, and aptitude can‘t be ignored as potential determinants for educational attainment. Likewise, family income and parental education have also been shown to be vital factors in predicting educational achievement in higher education (Fischer 2006). In these and a variety of other ways, every student who enrolls for study at an institution of higher education carries within himself or herself plenty of issues that may play either a positive or negative role in determining the level of success he or she will achieve. Of...
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