A model of developmental change in freshman students: Confirming Chickering's theory of student development

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


John Braxton


Arthur Chickering, education

Subject Categories



Maximizing the developmental potential of our students is an important concern of most educators today. Many developmental theorists have suggested ideas for how the typical student develops. One of the most prevalent theories in use on college campuses today is Chickering's Theory of College Student Development (Chickering, 1969). Chickering's theory is different from many other existing theories because it attempts to explain both how students change over the course of their college careers and identify the key influences on developmental change in students.

The current study examines Chickering's Theory using his hypotheses on both the developmental process and the environmental influences on student development. The study had three purposes: (1) based on Chickering's Theory of College Student Development, identify the direct and indirect effects of five environmental influences: (a) living arrangements; (b) environmental influences; (c) peer experiences; (d) faculty-student interactions; and (e) extracurricular involvement on affective student development; (2) to empirically validate Chickering's theory; and (3) to identify which of the five environmental influences in Chickering's model are most effective in producing positive developmental change in students and identify any implications for student affairs practitioners.

A causal model was developed to examine the relationship between entry characteristics, the five environmental influences, and developmental level during the freshman year of college. CALIS, a structural equation program was used to analyze the path model.

The results of the analysis: (1) supported existing literature regarding the influences of faculty interaction, interaction with peer groups and participation in activities on affective student developmental change during the freshman year; (2) provided partial empirical validation of Chickering's theory by documenting the effects of environmental influences on several developmental vectors; and (3) provided practitioners with a useful "road map" of the developmental process in freshman students by identifying the key components of the environment most effective in producing developmental change, and by providing additional evidence and support regarding Chickering's theory.

Results of the research are discussed in terms of their support for Chickering's theory, and implications of this research for student affairs practitioners. Limitations of this research and suggestions for future research are also discussed.


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