Social And Academic Integration And College Success: Similarities And Differences As A Function Of Ethnicity And Family Educational Background
Amy A. Strage
Analyses of survey data collected from 150 college students identified relationships among five indices of academic and social integration (academic confidence, social confidence, perception of oneself as a leader among one’s peers, a positive rapport with one’s teachers, and an internal locus of control) and success and mastery orientation in that environment (as indexed by GPA, persistence and task-involvement and an incremental view of intelligence). Significant differences among Asian-American, Hispanic and White students emerged for most of the student variables. Correlational analyses revealed strong linkages between academic and social integration and student outcomes across ethnic groups and for first-and later-generation college students. Discussion focuses on implications for practice and questions for future research.
The number of students enrolling in American colleges is steadily increasing, and the confidence level of entering Freshmen is at an all-time high. Yet the proportion of students who actually graduate from college is declining, especially among minority students (Justiz, 1994; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991; Sax, Astin, Korn and Mahoney, 1996; Suzuki, 1994; Tinto, 1993 US. Department of Education, 1995a, 1995b). Despite an increase in the number and type of student support services available on two- and four-year college campuses, an increasing segment of the college population appears to be under-prepared or inappropriately motivated.
Predictors of college success. By the end of the 1980’s, researchers had compiled a fairly clear picture of the formulas of success for “traditional” college students, that is 18-22 year old non-minority students from middle-class backgrounds whose parents had attended college. This formula included consideration of the adequacy of students’ academic preparation, the appropriateness of their educational expectations and career goals, the “anticipatory socialization” (Weidman, 1989) they had received from parents, peers and others prior to entering college, and their assimilation into their new milieu upon matriculation. (See, for example, Pascarella and Terenzini’s 1991 encyclopedic volume.) Two consistent predictors of retention and success were the degree to which students become academically and socially integrated into their environment. Several researchers have reported systematic cognitive and personal advantages for students who have frequent and informal contact with instructors and with peers, and who become engaged in intellectual and social pursuits on campus early in their college careers (Milem, 1998; Pascarella, 1985; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1979, 1980; Terenzini and Wright, 1987a, 1987b, 1987b; Tinto, 1975).
The college population of today, however, resembles less and less the students who participated in these foundational studies. The changing demographics are summarized in the 1995 and 1996 Chronicle of Higher Education: Almanac Issue. The decade from 1984 to 1994 saw a 5.1% increase in the number of White undergraduates matriculating at American college and universities, but an increase of 61% in the minority population. By the mid-1990’s, nearly half (40%) of college undergraduates were 25 years of age or older, nearly half (43%) were enrolled only part-time, and nearly half (46%) were employed. Relatively little is known (though much is assumed) about the strengths, weaknesses and academic achievement motivations of this “new” college population. Might their distinctive characteristics have significant bearing on the challenge of increasing student retention and success? More recently, scholars have called into question the universality of some of the earlier patterns and urged that more research be conducted so as to better understand the dynamics at play among the less “traditional” and more diverse populations now making their way to and through college (Astin, 1998; Kraemer, 1997; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1998; Rendon, 1994; Stage, 1993; Tierney, 1992).
Defining college success. The majority of the literature on predicting college success focuses on retention rates and indices of cognitive growth as student dependent variables. Few studies consider students’ affective state as it bears on their college success. Much of the literature on younger students’ achievement and achievement motivation, however, adopts a more analytical perspective on assessing student outcomes, one which might be quite useful in assessing and fostering college students’ success as well. More specifically, researchers in this field have distinguished two motivational profiles: one type of student, those labeled “mastery oriented”, welcomes challenge, and is able to maintain focus and persist in the face of obstacles; they believe they can increase their intelligence through diligent effort (“incremental view”); a second type of student, labeled “learned helpless”, shies away from challenges they fear they will not be able to meet and is easily distracted by fears of inadequate performance; they often believe there is nothing they can do to increase their intelligence (“entity view”) (Covington, 1984; Dweck, 1985; Dweck, 1986; Dweck and Leggett, 1988; Hayamizu and Weiner, 1991; Nicholls, 1984). Typically, “mastery-oriented” and “learned helpless” students do not differ significantly in GPA, although “learned helpless” students appear to earn their high grades at a cost of significant stress and fear of failure, while the “mastery-oriented” students appear to enjoy rising to the challenges inherent in their school work. Generally speaking, “mastery oriented” students are seem by others and see themselves as better adjusted to and more successful in their academic surround (Schraw and Aplin, 1998).
The present study was part of a larger investigation of the antecedents of college students’ success. The results reported here are intended to begin to address the following questions: (1) Do college students from different ethnic backgrounds and with different family histories of college attendance differ in their academic and social integration into the same 4-year college environment? (2) Do they differ in their profiles of academic achievement and achievement motivation ? and (3) Do they differ with respect to patterns of relationship between social and academic integration on the one hand and levels of achievement and achievement motivation on the other?
The data presented in this report are part of a large-scale investigation of the factors relating to the achievement and achievement motivation of 150 students enrolled at a large metropolitan university in California. The sample included 73 White students, 40 Asian-American students and 37 Hispanic students. Slightly over one quarter of the students (n = 43) indicated that they were the first person in their immediate family to attend college. The sample was predominantly female (n = 132) and predominantly “commuter” (n = 130). Most respondents (n = 120) were Child Development majors.
Instrument and Procedure
Participants completed the Student Attitudes and Perceptions Survey (SAPS) during a class meeting of one of their Child Development classes’. Participation was entirely voluntary, and students received no course credit or remuneration for their participation. Nonetheless, approximately 90% to 95% of the students present on the day of data collection completed the survey. Surveys were anonymous, so as to encourage students to be as candid in their answers as possible. The SAPS inventory consisted of 135 questions. Most items asked respondents to rate their agreement with statements using a five-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). For the present purposes, only a subset of those items were considered.
Indices of achievement and achievement motivation. Respondents were asked to report their Grade Point Average (GPA), both overall and in their major. The fact that the distribution of grades obtained from the respondents in this study closely approximated that for Child Development majors overall, and the fact that the survey was anonymous should help assuage concerns about the accuracy of students’ reports of their own grades. This section of the survey also included items comprising three scales, each of which indexed aspects of a “mastery” achievement orientation to college. The first scale consisted of items designed to measure the degree to which students would persist in the face of difficulty or failure (Persistence, et = .8214, 4 items). The second scale measured the degree to which students were able to avoid distraction and maintain focus while working on their academic assignments (Task Involvement, [Alpha] = .7667, 5 items). The third scale measured the degree to which students believed their efforts would lead to increases in their intelligence (Incremental view, et = .7969, 2 items). High scores on these three scales reflected a “mastery” orientation. Low scores on these scales reflected the presence of a “learned helpless” orientation.
Indices of academic and social integration. Students’ rating of survey items pertaining to their perceptions of their adjustment to their college milieu were combined to yield five measures of academic and social integration. The first scale contained items concerning students’ confidence in their ability to complete college (Academic confidence, [Alpha] = .7511, 3 items). The second scale contained items concerning students’ confidence in their social skills (Social confidence, [Alpha] = .7963, 6 items). The third scale contained items concerning students’ perceptions of themselves as a leader among their peers (Leadership, [Alpha] = .7516, 3 items). The fourth scale contained items students’ ratings of their comfort and rapport with their instructors (Teacher rapport, [Alpha] = .6694, 5 items). And the fifth scale consisted of items concerning students’ self-perception of an internal locus of control (Internal Locus of Control, [Alpha] = .6204, 5 items).
Results and Discussion
In order to address the question of whether college students from different ethnic backgrounds and with different family histories of college attendance differed in their academic and social integration into the same 4-year college environment, two series of one-way ANOVA’s were conducted, one assessing ethnic group differences and another assessing college-generational differences.(2)
By and large, there were no ethnic group differences in Academic Confidence, although the Asian-American students tended to be less confident that the Hispanic or White students (A = 4.07, H = 4.36, W = 4.24, F = 1.06, p = .34). There were significant or near-significant ethnic group differences for all four of the remaining indices of academic and social integration, favoring the Hispanic and White students. More specifically, in comparison to the Asian-American students, Hispanic and White students were more socially confident (A = 3.70, H = 4.02, W = 4.07, F = 5.30, p [is less than] .001), they felt their were seen as more of a leader (A = 3.02, H = 3.41, W = 3.53, F = 4.55, p [is less than] .01), they tended to feel they had better rapport with their instructors (A = 3.55, H = 3.86, W = 3.88, F = 2.89, p [is less than] .10), and they tended to report feeling a more internal locus of control (A = 2.17, H = 2.54, W = 2.33, F = 2.40, p [is less than] .10). In contrast, the ANOVA’s revealed no systematic differences in academic or social adjustment between the first- and later-generation students. It would seem, then, that the Asian-American students were less well assimilated into their new environment, despite the University’s explicit and diligent efforts to provide a welcoming and engaging climate for its strikingly diverse population. Its efforts to assist its first-generation students would seem to be more effective.
In order to address the question of whether college students from different ethnic backgrounds and with different family histories of college attendance differed in their profiles of academic achievement and achievement motivation, two series of one-way ANOVA’s were conducted, one assessing ethnic group differences and another assessing college-generational differences.
Once again, ethnic group differences favored the Hispanic and the White students. The White students were earning significantly better grades overall (A = 3.35, H = 3.39, W=3.89, F = 5.66, p [is less than] .01) and in their majors (A = 3.50, H = 3.67, W = 4.12, F = 5.88, p [is less than] .01). The Hispanic students, and to some degree their White peers, were significantly more persistent in the face of difficulties or failure than their Asian-American counterparts (A = 3.86, H = 4.35, W = 4.15, F = 3.62, p [is less than] .05). There was also a trend for them to remain more focused and task-involved (A = 2.89, H = 3.08, W = 3.23, F= 2.01,p = .14), and to adopt an incremental view of their intelligence (A = 4.21, H = 4.55, W = 4.44, F = 1.58, p = .21). With the exception of differences in major GPA favoring the later-generation students, however, results of the comparison of first- and later-generation students revealed no systematic differences in achievement or “mastery” orientation.
The final question addressed in this study was whether college students from different ethnic backgrounds and with different family histories of college attendance differed with respect to patterns of relationship between social and academic integration on the one hand and levels of achievement and achievement motivation on the other. In order to address this question, five series of correlations were conducted, three assessing patterns within each of the ethnic groups and two assessing patterns among first- and later-generation students.
In general, most of the indices’ of academic and social integration were not strongly predictive of grades for any of the three ethnic groups. For Hispanic students, Leaderships skills were predictive of overall GPA (r = .37, p [is less than] .05) and major GPA (r = .38, p [is less than] .05), and Teacher Rapport was predictive of major GPA (r = .36, p [is less than] .05). For White students, Teacher Rapport was significantly predictive of both overall GPA (r = .41, p [is less than] .001) and major GPA (r = .38, p [is less than] .001). Academic confidence was also positively correlated with Major GPA (r = .24, p [is less than] .05).
Relationships between academic and social integration and the three indices of a “mastery” orientation were considerably stronger, and consistent across ethnic groups and groups differing in their family history of college experience.
More specifically, for White students, Academic Confidence, Leadership and Teacher Rapport were positively correlated with Persistence (r’s = .52, .41 and .54, p’s all [is less than] .001), Task Involvement (r’s = .40, .25 and .51, p’s [is less than] .001, .05 and .001) and Incremental views (r’s = .44, .35 and .27, p’s [is less than] .001, .05 and .05). Social Confidence was predictive of Persistence (r = .42, p [is less than] .001) and Incremental views (r = .33, p [is less than] .01), and an Internal Locus of Control was predictive of Persistence (r = .33, p [is less than] .01) and Task Involvement (r = .35, p [is less than] .01).
For Asian-American students, Academic Confidence and Teacher Rapport were significantly predictive of Persistence (r’s = .50 and .55, p’s both [is less than] .001), Task Involvement (r’s = .40 and .42, p’s both [is less than] .01) and Incremental views (r’ s = .64 and .53, p’s both [is less than] .001), and Social Confidence and Leadership Skills were predictive of Incremental views (r’s = .32 and .34, p’s both [is less than] .05).
For Hispanic students, Academic Confidence and Internal Locus of Control were significantly correlated with Persistence (r’s = .54 and .48, p’s [is less than] .001 and [is less than] .01); Leadership, Teacher Rapport and Internal Locus of Control were predictors of Task Involvement (r’s = .36, .40 and .39, p’s [is less than] .05, .01 and .05); and Social Confidence and Leadership were predictors of Incremental views (r’s = .46 and .41, p’s both [is less than] .01). The smaller correlations overall for the Asian-American and Hispanic samples relative to the White sample may have been the result of the smaller sample sizes for these two groups.
For both First-and Later-generation students, Teacher Rapport was associated with good grades overall (r’s = .33 and .34, p’s [is less than] .05 and .001) and in the major (r’s = .45 and .34, p’s [is less than] .01 and .001). Also, among First-generations students, Leadership skills were associated with good GPAs, both overall (r = .36, p [is less than] .05) and in the major (r = .35,p [is less than] .05) while among Later-generation students, Academic Confidence predicted good grades, both overall (r = .22, p [is less than] .05) and in the major (r = .25, p [is less than] .05). For Later-generation students, all five indices of academic and social integration significantly predicted degrees of “mastery” orientation (r’s ranged from. 18 to .55). The relationship between academic and social integration and achievement motivation was somewhat attenuated for First-generation students, remaining strongest for Academic Confidence and Teacher Rapport, and for Persistence and Incremental views. Again, given the relatively smaller sample size for the First-generation group, one must be cautious not to over-interpret the significance if the smaller correlations.
Conclusions and considerations for further research
To be sure, this study is preliminary. and the samples are relatively small. And clearly, one must guard against any sort of causal interpretation. These caveats notwithstanding, the following four points are in order.
First, significant differences emerged between students from White, Hispanic and Asian-American backgrounds in their academic and social integration into their college environment and in their academic achievement motivational profiles. This suggests students from each of these backgrounds have their own unique patterns of strengths and liabilities as they face the exigencies inherent in their new milieu. The concern to avoid inappropriate overgeneralizations from the plethora of studies of white middle class “traditional” students would seem to be warranted.
Second, given the significant differences between Asian-American and Hispanic students in college integration and motivational profile, we must be careful to avoid assuming too much similarity among students from different minority groups. In a similar vein, few differences emerged in this study between first- and later-generation students. We must be careful not to assume differences will exist where they do not.
Third, the relationship between grades and academic and social integration was, on the whole, much weaker than the relationship between achievement motivation and integration. This finding should alert us to the need to consider a wide range of student outcome measures, so as to not miss important links between the students’ perceptions of their environment and the way they fit into it, on the one hand, and their ability to rise to the challenges of that environment. Most notably, students’ level of persistence in the face of obstacles was consistently related to a range of measures of their academic and social integration. For many if not most college students, the expectations and standards of a college environment are significantly greater than those they might had to deal with in their prior academic experience. To the degree that their ability to persist when attempting to meet those challenges appear to be linked to their level of comfort in that environment, it is all the more important that we not overlook the elements inherent in that integration process.
And fourth, significant ethnic group differences emerged in how positively students perceived their rapport with their instructors, yet this factor also emerged as the strongest and most uniform predictor of students’ ability to martial a “mastery” achievement orientation. This should alert us to the urgent need to assist college instructors to be available to all of their students, and to be sensitive to cultural variations in patterns of communication and interaction. In considering the implications for practice, we might do well to consider the “multiple worlds” our students come from.
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AMY A. STRAGE San Jose State University
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