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Student Leadership and Engagement

A review of the research on members of fraternities and sororities: Academics and psychosocial issues amongst students in Greek-Letter organizations

Sorrells, A., Cole, H., and Medina, E. (2011)

This systematic literature review built upon a previous literature review by Molasso (2005), covering research from 1995–2005, published in two student affairs journals. We reviewed 40 studies in higher education and student affairs literatures of the first decade of the twenty-first century (2000–2010), expanding our investigation beyond two journals and moving beyond traditional issues of alcohol, substance use/abuse, and hazing, to race, academics and psychosocial issues among students who are members of Greek-letter organizations. Major findings of this review revealed the following: a severe shortage of studies on these college students pertaining to academic performance and psychosocial characteristics; a lack of understanding of what disparities exists, where they exists, or the magnitude of their impact on students' learning and success in college; and limited research of students' attitudes, perceptions and dispositions about influences on their college experience, opportunities and learning outcomes, and college completion.

A profile of UT Austin students in Greek-letter organizations

Sorrells, A., Cole, H., Stuart, G., and Kaye, A. (2010)

This study was conducted in cooperation with Greeks, Leadership and Intercultural Education, the Registrar and Office of Admissions. Based on descriptive variables, data were collected and a profile compiled of students who are members of Greek-lettered organizations at the university to determine inter- and intra-group disparities in academic performance. The project will help profile the group and subgroups and recommend areas of future study. We are currently analyzing the data and preparing a report.

An Examination of Academic Self-Concept and Leadership Self-Efficacy Among Members of Fraternities and Sororities

Principal Investigators
Dr. Kevin Cokley, Department of Educational Psychology
Dr. Audrey Sorrells, Associate Dean

Research Team
Ms. Heather Cole, Coordinator
Dr. Elizabeth Medina, Assistant Dean, Sorority and Fraternity Life
Mr. Phil Butler, Coordinator of Sorority and Fraternity Life
Mr. Jaden Felix, Coordinator of Sorority and Fraternity Life
Ms. Marilyn Russell, Coordinator of Sorority and Fraternity Life

It is estimated that between 10 to 5% of undergraduate students are members of fraternities and sororities (Molasso, 2005). This is a significant population on most college campuses yet there is a paucity of higher education research on students who are members of Greek-letter organizations. In a content analysis of two higher education journals, surveying a decade of research, Molasso found that less than 4% of peer reviewed publications centered on fraternity or sorority membership. This amounts to a substantial underrepresentation of research on these students. Although the press and public have strong opinions about Greek students, particularly pertaining to their perceived and actual use and abuse of alcohol, and hazing practices, far less attention has been given to their group functioning, what impact organizations have in relation to race, discrimination and access, as well as academic performance and psychosocial aspects of group-based dynamics. This study explores on a micro-level, some of the psychosocial issues related to behavior and particularly its link to academic performance, community involvement and leadership characteristics. Sub-population differences are explored by disaggregating data by gender, race/ethnicity, and underclassmen and upperclassmen status.

First-Year Experience

First Generation Collegian Students in Honors Programs

Principal Investigators:
Dr. Rich Reddick, Dr. Audrey Sorrells

Graduate Research Assistants:
Heather Cole, Hermalinda Cavazos, Gilbert C. McCray

First-generation collegians (FGCs) are increasing in number at the nation's universities, including The University of Texas at Austin. In the state of Texas, FGCs are more likely to be female, from minority backgrounds, from lower-income families and older than other students, among other factors (Engle, Bermeo, & O'Brien, 2006). First-generation college students are defined as students whose parents have no postsecondary education, or students whose parents have never earned a bachelor's degree but may have some postsecondary experience (Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998). These students tend to confront considerable challenges in adjusting to the academic and social milieu of higher education (Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, & Terenzini, 2004), often resulting in dissonance between their aspirations for college and experience, and diminished satisfaction and college completion. This may be true even for highly motivated and academically astute first-generation college students. The proposed study aims to utilize a phenomenological qualitative approach (Seidman, 1998) to better understand the first-year college academic and co-curricular experiences of FGCs who successfully applied and enrolled in competitive admission honors programs at UT Austin. We hope to learn more about:

  • The typology of postsecondary student engagement and disengagement.
  • Theory of postsecondary student engagement verses student alienation.
  • Formal and informal connections and social networks on campus and engagement.
  • Postsecondary students' perceptions of diversity on campus and their engagement.

Undergraduate College Choice Survey

Principal Investigators: Dr. Audrey Sorrells; Dr. Pat Somers, Department of Higher Education Administration; Ms. Cristi Biggs, Assistant Dean of Students, New Student Services; Ms. Heather Cole, Graduate Research Assistant, Grace Hamilton, Diversity Research Mentor, Dr. Gale Stuart, Ms. Alyssa Kaye, GRA

Collaborating with a faculty researcher from the Department of Higher Education Administration, the Research Institute initiated a pilot survey of entering college freshman during summer orientation to ascertain why and how they made their college choice. Findings are preliminary but show a need for greater information on the effect and impact of community outreach, parental influence, as well as financial and other associated constraints. The survey is currently being refined and will be delivered as a more developed instrument in the summer months to a larger student population. Data collected will help inform how recruitment and retention programs are designed.

In conjunction with the same Department of Higher Education faculty researcher, the Research Institute developed a parent program for the parents of entering freshman to assist with the transition of their students to college. This research-based program on parent perspectives and concerns during the first year their students attend college was very well attended each time it was presented. It is now the basis for a new parent program for the next orientation session and is informing research scholarship, including a manual for parents on coping with the transition during their students' first year of college.

College Choice Survey (PDF)


Veterans Students Success in College: Descriptive Study of Student Veterans at UT Austin

Principal Investigators:
Dr. Audrey Sorrells, Dr. Soncia Reagins-Lilly, Dr. LaToya Hill

Work Group:
VSIRP Committee, Office of the Registrar, Office of Admissions, Division of Student Affairs Assessment

Based on descriptive variables, data were collected and a profile compiled of veteran students at the university. The project helped profile the group, recommended areas of future study and informed the development of two research proposals to study factors affecting veteran student success and psychosocial adjustment.

Although numbers of student veterans on campus are increasing, little is known about this unique population and services are just being developed to address the needs of veterans returning to college. In anticipation of this new demand, the Research Institute in partnership with Student Emergency Services, authored three federal grant proposals to increase funding for services on campus for student veterans. In addition, a descriptive statistical analysis was completed to comprehensively profile student veterans at UT Austin. Faculty, staff and Veterans Administration representatives coalesced to form a Veteran Student Interdisciplinary Research Project (VSIRP) team to identify and direct possible collaborative undertakings addressing the needs of veteran students. A survey-based needs assessment and focus group study is currently being conducted in partnership with faculty in the Department of Educational Psychology to learn more about veteran students and assist with the development of targeted programming and services.

Mental Health and Psychosocial Adjustment in Higher Education: Student Veteran Needs Assessment

Supported Education for Student Veterans: Employing a Wrap-around Service Model to Achieve Success in Higher Education

Supported Education is defined as a specific type of intervention that provides supports and other assistance for persons with psychiatric disabilities for access, enrollment, retention and success in postsecondary education. Research has shown that Supported Education is effective in overall treatment of mental disorders, improving grades, course completion rates, social functioning and adjustment, including self-esteem, confidence and independence. The intervention model addresses veteran students overall success in higher education by increasing outcome measures associated with student engagement, specifically marked by persistence and completion rates.

The purpose of this pilot study conducted with veteran students at UT Austin is to determine the feasibility of a Supported Education intervention model using a multi-component strategy to assist a diverse group of student veterans with mental disabilities, ages 21 to 45, transitioning from combat to a large public university. Thirty veteran students who self-identify for services related to the three target areas—mental health, academics and social adjustment—were randomly assigned Supported Education status. A lagged implementation design was used to form a comparison group in the pilot study. Focus groups, interventionists and case manger logs, observations of researchers, surveys and interviews provided information on the applicability, relevance, utility, flexibility, social validity and cost effectiveness of the project. Independent measures assessed student veteran response to the model and the effect of the model on persistence and completion rates. Qualitative data (focus groups, logs, interviews, surveys and observations) related to intervention improvement and feasibility. Descriptive statistics, comparisons of slope and level in the pre and post treatment phases (re: student engagement) and analyses of the pre-post quantitative student data suggest potential effectiveness of the Supported Education model.

Easing the Transition from Combat to College in OEF/OIF Veterans

Research Approaches for Supported Education Among OEF/OIF Combat Veterans in College

Education has long been regarded as beneficial for veterans returning from war and transitioning home, as illustrated by the GI Bill of 1944, sponsored by Edith Nourse Rogers. GI Bill was revised in the Montgomery Bill of the 1980s, and now offered through a new GI Bill that went into effect in 2009 (Ainspan & Penk, 2008; Sabatier, 2008). But, going beyond paying for tuition, books, housing and other kinds of support to attend college, or other forms of specialized training, special forms of what is becoming known as "Supported Education" is available for combat veterans enrolling in college. That is, clinicians are now developing forms of Supported Education into which interventions for treating mental disorders are integrated into the educational experience.

Results from these approaches suggest that psychoeducational, SE interventions are now available for trauma survivors varying by age, as well as in the social networks of those who have been traumatized—parents, significant others, care-givers, teachers and children. Specialty interventions are likewise available in the form of SE manuals for military personnel exposed to traumas, military sexual trauma, domestic violence, violent crimes, child abuse and civilian traumas, including car wrecks and natural disasters. Forms of SE interventions for groups, individual contacts, therapy, online interventions and Web-based interactions concentrated on these approaches adapted for combat veterans in college. For studies completed to date, effect sizes have ranged from moderate to high (.34 to 1.08, Cohen's d) (For a review of the literature on Supported Education for the treatment of PTSD, see Glynn, Drebing, and Penk, 2009. For SE for other disorders, such as Traumatic Brain Injury, see special issue in the VA's Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, in press, 2011).

Supported Education in an Outpatient PTSD Clinic

We are conducting a pilot study to produce a manualized approach to Supported Education (SE) for OEF/OIF combat veterans who are receiving treatment for Combat Stress Reactions, and who are simultaneously attending college. We will test the efficacy of the independent variable (i.e., SE delivered while combat veterans are in treatment and in college) as well as dependent variables (e.g., subject characteristics, personal, social and educational outcomes) to be taken into account when conducting large-scale outcome evaluations. Little is known about contexts in which SE interventions may best be provided—at the school location, in VA Outpatient Specialty Clinics or in private clinics. Nor is much known about formats for delivering SE as group support, classroom support, individual support.

In our SE clinical trial, subjects are randomly assigned to either Experimental Conditions providing one of three forms of SE as a group support, classroom support or individual support (based on a model developed by Collins, Mowbray, and Bybee, 2000). The Control condition is a Wait-List Delay approach in which subjects complete a baseline evaluation but do not start SE until second semester. All subjects receive Treatment-as-Usual during two college semesters. Baseline measures are collected before first semester starts (e.g., school performance indicators, clinical assessment for PTSD and other trauma-adjustment indicators, as well as measures of home and community functioning. Process measures include SE Fidelity evaluations and surveys of other health-related training received during both semesters. We will test hypotheses that SE is beneficial in lowering PTSD symptoms, increasing resiliency, and improving school performance and course completion rates. We predict that both clinical and educational outcomes will be more favorable for veterans in both treatment and college who participate in SE services added to clinical interventions.

From Combat Zone to College Life: Learning What Returning Veterans need to succeed in Higher Education

Unprecedented numbers of veterans are returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seeking to begin or to return to college after their tours of duty. There is every reason to believe that for these veterans the transition from combat zone and military culture to college life can be stressful. In addition, colleges and universities are typically not well informed about or equipped to meet the unique needs of these returning veterans because little research exists to inform administrators who are advising veterans or helping them make optimal vocational and career choices. Similarly, there are few models to help mental health professionals, on college campuses or at Veterans Administration clinics, work collaboratively with veterans who are seeking or already in treatment. Finally, in many instances on many campuses, there is no overlap in mental health care and academic advising for these veterans.

A collaborative team of university-based psychologists, Veterans Administration psychologists, vocational researchers and consultants, and student affairs specialists developed a set of questions they believed were relevant to the concerns and needs of veterans returning to college campuses. They then developed a series of focus groups with returning veterans to gain a better understanding of the needs of veterans in a higher education context.

The findings from these focus groups will serve as a basis for exploring and discussing the unique needs of veterans returning to college campuses.

Postsecondary and Disability Studies

CoSIG Graduate Student Research Team:
Ms. Heather Cole, GRA and Project Coordinator, Doctoral Student, Department of Special Education (LD/BD, Ed Policy, MCSE)
Mr. Nigel Pierce, Project Co-Coordinator (Developmental Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders)
Ms. Grace Hamilton, Diversity Research Mentor, Doctoral Student, Dept of Special Education (Multicultural Special Education)
Ms. Kristen Jones, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Special Education (Multicultural Special Education, Disability Studies Portfolio (Gender)
Ms. Emily Shryrock, Disabilities Services Coordinator, SSD/DDCE

In partnership with Services for Students with Disabilities, the Research Institute has undertaken a comprehensive review of the student affairs academic literature on services for students with disabilities in postsecondary institutions. In an effort to improve our own services and ensure access for all students, such a review builds upon previous work and recommendations within the field, synthesizing nearly 40 articles over the last 20 years. Although the research available to practitioners is limited, findings reveal a need for more evaluative and efficacy-directed policies and programs. The review is currently being prepared for publication in an academic journal.

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