Self-esteem and self-efficacy of college students with disabilities
Teri R. Blake
The present study investigated the relationship between self-esteem and self-efficacy among college students with physical and learning disabilities. Participants included forty-four undergraduate students and four graduate students registered with a university’s office for students with disabilities. Collective Self-esteem, Membership Self-esteem, Private Self-esteem, and Public Self-esteem were positively and significantly correlated with General and Social Self-efficacy. Scores were found to be similar to scores from the normative samples. Thus although self-esteem and self-efficacy were significantly related to each other, they were largely unrelated to disability status.
Psychologists have written extensively about the self for over 100 years (e.g., James, 1890). Markus (1977) added to our understanding of the self by developing the notion of self schema, the organized views of self, which we all have. Coopersmith (1967) and Bandura (1986) contributed by identifying self-esteem, the evaluative component of self, and self-efficacy, our perceived abilities.
For self-esteem and self-efficacy to be valid and useful, they ought to apply to all groups including those with disabilities, and they ought to be reliably measurable (Kerr & Bodman, 1994). Luhtanen and Crocker (1992) developed a reliable test for measuring self-esteem. Sherer, Maddux, Mercandante, Prentice-Dunn, Jacobs, and Rogers (1982) created a reliable scale to assess self-efficacy.
Although experiencing a disability has been shown to have an important impact on the sense of self (Toombs, 1994), Wright (1983) found that there are no general personality differences between people with disabilities compared to their peers. Likewise Kelly, Sedlacek, and Scales (1994) concluded that college students with physical and learning disabilities did not perceive themselves differently from students from the general population. However, Kelly et al. (1994) found that students from the general population rated their peers with disabilities as being lower in extraversion and in emotional stability compared to other peers. Also, Saracoglu, Minden, and Wilchesky (1989) surveyed college students with learning disabilities to determine perceptions of their college experience. The authors concluded that college students with learning disabilities exhibited poor self-esteem as well as poor emotional adjustment. Penn and Dudley (1980) questioned college students with physical disabilities to determine perceptions of their college experience. The researchers concluded that these students ranked self-confidence as one of the major obstacles confronted while attending college. Thus there is disagreement among studies regarding the sense of self of college students with disabilities. The present study attempted to further investigate the relationship between measures of self (self-esteem and self-efficacy) and disability status of college students with disabilities.
It was hypothesized that self-esteem and self-efficacy scores would be correlated. Additionally, it was hypothesized that these scores would be lower for students with disabilities compared to the normative sample. Further, it was hypothesized that self-esteem would be correlated with reported academic achievement in high school and college among students with disabilities.
Forty-four undergraduate students and four graduate students with disabilities enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) served as participants in this study. All of the participants were registered with the Disabled Student Services Office and had provided documentation of their disabilities to the director. Twenty-three females and 25 males participated. The numbers of students for each matriculation classification were as follows: freshman (8); sophomore (13); junior (10); senior (13); and graduate (4). Students’ disabilities varied among 19 categories. The largest categories were visual impairment and cerebral palsy with eight students in each. The students reported their high school and college grade point averages.
The Collective Self-esteem Scale (Luhtaven & Crocker, 1992) and the Self-efficacy scale (Sherer, et al. 1982) were used in this study. The self-esteem scale includes 16 items to determine Membership Self-esteem, Private Self-esteem, Public Self-esteem, and Identity Self-esteem. Responses are made on a seven-point Likert-type scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. A high score indicates high levels of self-esteem. A score as high as 112 is possible. The lowest possible score is 16. In the research conducted by Luhtanen and Crocker (1992), Cronbach’s Alpha coefficients were found to be substantial ranging from 0.83 to 0.88 for all scales.
The Self-efficacy Scale constructed by Sherer, et al. (1982) consists of 23 items; seven of the items are fillers and are not scored. Answers are listed on a five-point scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. These scores are presented so that a high score indicates higher levels of self-efficacy. A score as high as 115 is possible, and the lowest possible score is 23. Sherer, et al. determined construct validity by correlating the Self-efficacy Scale with several other personality measures such as the Ego Strength Scale, the Interpersonal Competency Scale, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. Cronbach Alpha reliability coefficients of 0.86 and 0.71 were obtained for the general self-efficacy and social self-efficacy factors in the 1982 study.
The present study included gender, matriculation classification (e.g., freshman, senior, etc.), reported high school and college grade point averages, reported socioeconomic status, the students’ ratings of the visibility of the disability (visible and not visible), the first author’s ratings of the visibility of the disability (visible and not visible), the first author’s rating of the global severity of the disability, the students’ ratings of the severity of the disability, and reported age of onset of the disability. Socioeconomic status was measured using Mercer’s and Lewis’s (1979) System of Multicultural Pluralistic Assessment occupation rating system. Severity of the disability and visibility of the disability were measured by asking the participants to indicate their perceptions by circling one of the following: 1-Not at All; 2=Just a Little; 3=Moderate; 4=Severe; 5=Very Severe. The first author rated the visibility of the disabilities by coding unseen (invisible) disabilities as 1 and visible disabilities as 2. The following disabilities were coded as invisible: learning disability, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, any type of health impairment such as asthma, heart condition, epilepsy or diabetes. Psychological disorders such as an anxiety disorder or a substance-related disorder also were coded as invisible. All remaining disabilities including hearing impairment, visual impairment, physical impairment (e.g., paraplegia, quadriplegia, cerebral palsy, etc.) were coded as visible.
Questionnaires, along with a cover letter, were left at the MTSU Disabled Student Services Office. They were given to students registered with that office. Participation was voluntary and confidentiality was maintained. Of the 80 questionnaires that were left in the Disabled Student Services Office to be distributed, 50 were completed. Two of the questionnaires were not used because of incomplete data.
Means and standard deviations of raw scores for the Collective Self-esteem and Self-Efficacy scales are presented in Table 1. These scores were compared to means and standard deviations taken from a normative sample using one-sample t tests (see Table 1). It was predicated that college students with disabilities would score lower on the Collective Self-esteem and the General and Social Self-efficacy scales compared to the normative samples. These hypotheses were not supported using one-sample t tests. In fact, students with disabilities scored higher than the normative sample on the Membership Self-esteem scale, t (46) = 2.59, p < 0.01 and the Social Self-efficacy scale, t (46) = 3.46, p < 0.01 (see Table 1).
A significant correlation (see Table 2) was found between the Collective Self-esteem and General Self-efficacy scales, r = 0.47, p<0.01. Collective Self-esteem, Membership Self-esteem, and Private Self-esteem were significantly correlated with General and Social Self-efficacy (range of r from 0.34 to 0.60). Public Self-esteem was significantly correlated with General Self-efficacy but not significantly related to Social Self-efficacy. Identity Self-esteem was not significantly correlated with the General or Social Self efficacy.
Demographics including gender, classification (e.g., freshman, senior), high school and college grade point averages, socioeconomic status, age of onset of the disability, visibility of the disability (e.g., learning disability, cerebral palsy, paraplegic, etc.), and the severity measures were analyzed using Pearson correlations to determine their relationships with self-efficacy and self-esteem (see Table 3). Social Self-efficacy was positively correlated with the visibility of the disability as well as of the severity of the disability as rated by the first author, (r = 0.30 and r=0.33 respectfully, p < 0.05). Additionally, there was a significant negative correlation between Social Self-efficacy and age of onset (N=-0.35, p< 0.05). Reported high school GPA was significantly correlated in the Private Self-esteem, r=0.30, p< 0.05. No other correlations were significant.
It was hypothesized that self-esteem and self-efficacy would be significantly correlated to reported academic achievement. A stepwise regression analysis was used to determine which combination of variables predicted reported college grade point average. The first variable to enter into the equation for predicting college GPA was matriculation classification status (e.g. freshman to graduate student). The second variable that significantly entered into the equation was socioeconomic status. No other predictors significantly entered into the equation.
Self-esteem and self-efficacy were examined among college students with physical and learning disabilities. Although self-esteem and self-efficacy have been investigated for many years, there is little published research dealing with these constructs among college students with disabilities. In the present sample, self-esteem and self-efficacy measures were either the same as or higher than the normative sample. These data are contrary to expectations and to the findings of Penn and Dudley (1980) and Saracoglu, Minder, and Wilchesky (1989). However, these findings provide support for the view that students with disabilities are part of a typical distribution (Kerr & Bodman, 1994). These data support the view that valid constructs such as self-esteem and self-efficacy ought to apply to students with disabilities as well as to students from the general population.
Collective Self-esteem, Membership Self-esteem, Private Self-esteem, and Public Self-esteem were positively and significantly correlated with General and Social Self-efficacy. Saracoglu et al. (1989) also found a positive correlation between self-esteem and self-efficacy among college students with learning disabilities. The present study expanded on Saracoglu et al.’s work by including college students with physical disabilities in the sample.
The present researchers also examined demographics such as gender, matriculation classification, reported high school and college grade point averages, reported socioeconomic status and ratings of the visibility as well as severity of the disability. High school GPA was positively and significantly correlated with Private Self-esteem. Other correlations with high school GPA were not significant. This finding provides only marginal support for Calsyn and Kenny’s (1977) finding that academic achievement relates to Self-esteem. In the present study, the first author’s ratings of visibility and severity of the disability were positively and significantly correlated with Social Self-efficacy. As disabilities become more visible and more severe (at least as rated by the first author) participants rated themselves as having higher Social Self-efficacy. One explanation for this may be that persons with visible and relatively severe disabilities are unable to hide their disabilities. Therefore, they must be more open about their disabilities. Roessler and Bolton (1978) make the point that how persons with disabilities perceive themselves influences how other persons are going to perceive them. If persons with disabilities have negative perceptions of themselves, this may hinder social interactions. Persons with unseen disabilities can conceal their disabilities and never come to terms with them. This may affect their Social self-efficacy. When threatening social situations arise, persons with unseen disabilities may feel that their participation may reveal their disability, and therefore they may be less likely to participate. If they are less likely to participate, then their social self-efficacy may never develop. Dunn (1994) discusses that individuals will search for positive meanings and illusions following a disability. Dunn argues that following the disability, persons may look for a silver lining, by thinking that the disability has added to their lives. Dunn helps explain the positive and significant correlation between the visibility and severity of the students’ disabilities and Social self-efficacy. The students may have searched for positive meaning following the onset of the obvious disability and accepted the disability as part of themselves. On the other hand, students with unseen disabilities may be less likely to search for positive meaning because they feel they can hide the disability.
Reported age of onset of the disabilities was negatively correlated with Social self-efficacy. The older a participant was at the onset of the disability, the lower his/her Social Self-efficacy. One explanation for this finding may be attributed to a person’s acceptance of his/her disability. A person whose disability occurred at birth was likely to be more accepting of his/her disabling condition than a person whose disability occurred later. Whether a disability occurred at birth or later, the disability is seen as a physical and psychosocial shock (Roessler & Bolton, 1978). Persons born with a disability have never experienced life without it, and thus they may report higher Social Self-efficacy compared to peers with a recently acquired disability.
The present study found that measures of Membership Self-esteem and Social Self-efficacy among college students with disabilities were significantly higher than the normative sample. No significant differences were found on the other subscales. The positive relationship between disability status and Membership Self-esteem mid Social Self-efficacy are at odds with findings reported by Saracoglu et al.’s (1989). Nothing in Saracoglu et al.’s study alludes to a social support system specifically designed for students with disabilities. Such a support system is available to the participants in the present study. Middle Tennessee State University has its own fraternity/sorority for students with disabilities. The students and the director of Disabled Student Services meet at the beginning of each semester and elect officers, just as any other fraternity/sorority. Almost all of the students with disabilities who live on campus are involved in the social organization. Getting involved with others that face similar challenges may enhance one’s feeling of belonging, thus enhancing one’s Membership Self-esteem and Social Self-efficacy.
Another explanation for the finding that students with disabilities scored higher than the normative sample on the Social Self-efficacy scale could be that college students with disabilities have had to overcome many obstacles in their lifetime in order to be enrolled at college. Attending college for any person is an accomplishment. Persons with physical and learning disabilities face many more challenges and obstacles than the average person (Penn & Dudley, 1980). Therefore, college students with disabilities who attend college may feel that they have beaten the odds, and therefore, their Social Self-efficacy may be higher
A limitation of this study was the absence of a control group. The participants with disabilities scores on the self-esteem and self-efficacy scales could have been compared to a more current group of students without disabilities as opposed to the normative samples. It was also unfortunate that only 48 students chose to participate. The wide range of disabilities also can be construed as a limitation. Future researchers may wish to do in-depth interviews of college students with disabilities to further investigate self-esteem and self-efficacy (Kerr & Bodman, 1994).
Even these limitations do not detract from the central findings presented here. Self-esteem and self-efficacy were related for this sample. Also college students with disabilities showed the typical ranges of self-esteem and self-efficacy as students from the normative samples.
Means and Standard Deviations for collective Self-esteem and
Its Four Subscales and General and Social Self-efficacy
Current Study Normative
M SD M SD
Collective Self-esteem 89.71 12.98 87.41 11.68
Membership Self-esteem 24.25 3.93 22.78 3.38
Private Self-esteem 23.54 4.12 23.09 3.13
Public Self-esteem 22.15 4.02 21.62 3.71
Identity Self-esteem 19.77 5.44 19.65 4.99
General Self-efficacy 66.17 9.07 64.31 8.58
Social Self-efficacy 23.04 3.68 21.20 3.63
Correlation Summary on General Self-efficacy and
Social-efficacy with Collective Self-esteem and Its Four Subscales
Scale and Subscales General Self-efficacy Social Self-efficacy
Collective Self-esteem .47 ** .60 **
Membership Self-esteem .48 ** .52 **
Private Self-esteem .34 * .60 **
Public Self-esteem .51 ** .23
** p < .01. * p < .05.
Pearson Correlational Analyses for Demographics With Collective
Self-esteem and Its Four Subscales and General and Social Self-efficacy
GSE SSE MSest. PRest.
Gender -.14 -.11 -.08 -.21
Classification .24 .25 .14 .12
High School GPA .10 .24 .15 .30 *
College GPA .22 .14 .22 .28
Credit Hours .21 .25 .20 .18
Occupation (Mom) .29 .03 .09 -.08
Occupation (Dad) .21 .06 .14 .07
Visibility of Disability .11 .30 * .24 .10
(First author’s ratings)
Severity .08 .33 * .26 .14
(first author’s ratings)
Age of Onset -.19 -.35 * .07 -.09
Visibility of Disability .17 .13 .27 .05
Severity .13 .01 .19 -.02
PUest. IDest. COest.
Gender -.15 .11 -.09
Classification .19 .13 .19
High School GPA .19 .01 .20
College GPA .09 .09 .22
Credit Hours .24 .13 .25
Occupation (Mom) .29 .01 .10
Occupation (Dad) -.12 -.04 .01
Visibility of Disability .05 .27 .23
(First author’s ratings)
Severity .03 .23 .23
(first author’s ratings)
Age of Onset -.21 .03 -.06
Visibility of Disability -.01 .10 .13
Severity -.15 -.16 -.06
Note: GSE = General Self-efficacy; SSE = Social Self-efficacy;
MSest. = Membership Self-esteem; PRest. = Private Self-esteem;
PUest. = Public Self-esteem; IDest. = Identity Self-esteem;
COest. = Collective Self-esteem.
* p < .05
TERI R. BLAKE AND JAMES O. RUST
Middle Tennessee State University
COPYRIGHT 2002 Project Innovation (Alabama)
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group