Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Sylvia Gonzalez

Second Advisor

Jimmy Kijai

Third Advisor

Lawrence Geraty



As the general population of minorities continues to increase nationwide, so has the number of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups qualified to enter higher education. While some public universities are responding to various diversity initiatives and changes, a number of institutions, especially small liberal arts colleges, have been less responsive to these changes in demographics. As liberal arts colleges begin to plan more effectively to respond to a more pluralistic student body, more understanding is needed about the student engagement patterns of these underrepresented groups. This study looks at the engagement patterns of a small liberal arts research university in Southern California that has experienced, within the last fifteen years a demographic shift in its community, faith constituency, and inadvertently its campus.

Research Design

La Sierra University was chosen as the designated campus for research due to its unique contributions to the literature, since it defines diversity to mean a multiethnic/ racial student body comprised of Hispanics, Asians, White, Multiracial, African American, and Foreign students rather than the traditional definition of diversity meaning a White campus with a small percentage of Black student presence. The student population is structurally diverse in a non-Black and White context and with a diversity density index of .91, as calculated using Chang’s formula. This study uses secondary analysis of 2013 NSSE raw data from La Sierra University to examine Student Engagement and its relationship to gender, class standing, ethnicity, and Student Satisfaction. Descriptive statistics, t-test, analysis of variance (ANOVA), and regression analysis were used to analyze the data set. Using previous research, three of the Student Engagement variables (Character Development, Cross- Racial Interaction, and Curricular/Co-curricular Diversity) were designed to be used for this study and were tested for reliability.


The findings reveal that students at La Sierra University were engaged at various levels as measured by Academic Challenge, Character Development, Cross-Racial Interaction, and Curricular/Co-curricular Diversity. The results reveal gender and class standing differences as well as differences among the various ethnic groups as they relate to the Student Engagement variables. A relationship was found between the Student Engagement variables and the demographic variables of gender, class standing, and ethnicity. Students were most engaged in Cross-Racial Interaction Diversity and were least engaged in the Academic Challenge’s sub-section of Quantitative Reasoning. A correlation was found between Student Satisfaction and Curricular/Co-curricular Diversity and Character Development gains. An additional positive and surprising finding was that students in this multi-ethnic, non-Black and White diversity-dense liberal arts institution scored higher in all measured Student Engagement variables than the NSSE 2013 participants and their NSSE 2013 Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) college/university cohort.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The value of Structural Diversity as experienced in this small, multi-ethnic, liberal arts university was affirmed with students reporting high engagement patterns and statistically significant higher scores and gains than students in a less structurally diverse campus context. Recommendations for Practice focus on building institutional capacity to address the findings and support the student experience. Recommendations for Study focus on quantifying the educational merits of the findings from this study.

Subject Area

Multicultural education, La Sierra University, Minority students--California