Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

Raul Leon, PhD

Committee Member

Carmen McCallum, PhD

Committee Member

Calvin Phillips, EdD

Committee Member

Rema Vassar, PhD

Committee Member

Davis Clement, PhD


This study is concerned with the fact that commuter students persist at a lower rate than their residential peers. As colleges and universities seek to increase educational attainment rates, understanding why commuter students struggle with retention is important. Research shows sense of belonging can positively affect intention to persist. As such, the guiding research question for this study was as follows: How do commuter students develop a sense of belonging in their university? This research was conducted at a large, public, primarily nonresidential, doctoral university in the Midwestern United States. This study utilized constructivist grounded theory methodology to understand how commuter students make meaning of their experiences with belonging. Primary data were collected through interviews with commuter students and a document analysis of the archive of the National Clearinghouse for Commuter Programs was also performed. Interviews and documents were analyzed using the constant comparative method, and the resulting codes were categorized into central themes. These themes were used to develop a model of college student belonging. The study revealed that commuter students experienced belonging in a fluid state, continually adding to and detracting from an overall sense of belonging. Further, this study revealed that commuter students utilize certain strategies and behaviors in response to their sense of belonging and take action to re-engage in the campus environment. Lastly, the study showed that informal interactions with peers, faculty, and staff were shown to positively impact sense of belonging. The author also discusses implications for practice and recommendations for future research.