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What Affects Student Outcomes More: GPA or Participation in Co-curricular Activities?

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Degree Pathways and Cocurricular Experiences

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Joanna Mirecki Millunchick University of Michigan

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Professor Millunchick has two distinct areas of research. The first is in Materials Science and involves manipulating matter on the nanoscale in order to enable the design of new electronic materials for optoelectronic and photovoltaic applications. Specifically, she is fascinated by the details of atomic surface structure of compound semiconductors, self assembly of epitaxial nanostructures, and in situ characterization. The second area of research is in Engineering Education, and studies whether student participation in engineering co-curricular activities confers any benefits, and how to transfer those benefits to attract and retain students typically underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. She is also currently developing virtual and augmented reality learning tools to help students learn concepts in the physical sciences.

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Yixian Zhou University of Michigan

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Out of classroom experiences in college are known to have significant impact on student success in college and in life. In order to investigate how student backgrounds, pre-college experiences, and engagement once in college affect student outcomes, we developed a survey based on the theories of Astin and Weidman. While there are many factors that affect outcomes, in this paper we examine how grade point average (GPA) and student participation in co-curricular activities contribute to social, academic, and professional outcomes.

We invited 4,022 third and fourth year undergraduate engineering students at a large public Midwestern R1 university to complete the survey, and received 998 responses. It asked questions regarding student pre-college resources, experiences once on campus, and social, academic, and professional outcomes. Each student was also asked to list up to five engineering-related co-curricular activities that we classified into four types of organizations: identity-based, competition and design teams, professional societies, and college-run organizations.

The survey adapted several scales related to social, academic, and professional outcomes. The two social outcomes scales measure the amount of social capital held by individual students, either within their social circle (Bonding Social Capital) or between social circles (Bridging Social Capital); the academic outcome scale measures the degree to which students are satisfied with their academic major (Major Satisfaction), and the two professional outcomes scales are related to professional identity, the degree to which they identify as engineers (Engineering Identity) and intend to continue within the profession (Intent to Persist). Confirmatory Factor Analysis shows excellent construct validity for all except for the Intent to Persist scale, which was removed from further analysis. We also study an additional academic outcome, GPAs of individual students, which were taken from the institutional database.

As previously demonstrated in the literature, our analysis confirms that participation in co-curricular activities is beneficial. T-tests between participants and non-participants show that participating always results in higher levels on every outcome scale regardless of the type of organization. Furthermore, participants have higher GPAs than non-participants. A more careful analysis emphasizes the influence of specific types of organizations and GPA on individual outcomes. A linear regression model that predicts each of the four outcomes was constructed to take into account participation in each type of activity and GPA. This analysis shows, for example, that Engineering Identity is predicted by GPA and participation in competition and design teams and professional societies. This suggests that success in academics coupled with the work done in these organizations bolster feelings of becoming an engineer. Participation in competition and design teams, professional societies, and college-run organizations are significant predictors for bridging social capital. This is perhaps because these organization encourage students to create networks outside of their own social circle in order to be successful. This research shows that even though all of the studied outcomes increase with participation, the type of participation and GPA are also influential.

Millunchick, J. M., & Zhou, Y. (2020, June), What Affects Student Outcomes More: GPA or Participation in Co-curricular Activities? Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35496

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