Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

First Advisor

Mary Secret (Dissertation Chair)

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Farmer

Third Advisor

Timothy Davey

Fourth Advisor

Laura Moriarty


College student engagement is an important factor that contributes to student success. This study is one of the first to explore student engagement in undergraduate social work education by examining engagement levels among at-risk social work students. In this study, two types of at-risk student groups were studied: First Generation College Students (FGCS) and transfer students. A cross sectional research design was used. Secondary analysis was performed on data gathered by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) from five accredited, Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs in one southeast state. A sample of 135 BSW seniors were included in this study and their levels of engagement were measured using four engagement types (peer to peer, student with faculty, student with university, and student with profession). Univariate and bivariate statistical procedures were used to examine the data and describe the sample. Hierarchical and logistic regression were used to test whether membership in an at-risk group could predict student engagement. There was a moderate to strong relationship between the four types of student engagement. Together, they indicated a good measure of BSW student engagement. FGCS had statistically significant lower levels of student engagement in three out of the four engagement types (peer to peer, student with faculty, and student with profession) than their non-FGCS counterparts. Practice implications for BSW programs to address low student engagement for FGCS through specific programming were provided. Transfer students had no statistically significant differences in any of the four types of student engagement compared to their non-transfer counterparts. Two explanations were posited for these findings; that social work programs are small in size and facilitate targeted student engagement that act as engagement “protective factors” and, by the time transfer students completed this survey they had already adopted the academic and cultural expectations requisite for success. Lastly, membership in an at-risk group, specifically FGCS, may predict lower levels of engagement in certain engagement types. The overall findings identify areas of low student engagement which afford BSW programs opportunities to create tailored programming to address it, especially among FGCS. Suggestions for future studies are also discussed.


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