Impact of acculturation and psychosocial variables on academic performance of Native American and Caucasian college freshmen, The

impact of acculturation and psychosocial variables on academic performance of Native American and Caucasian college freshmen, The

Ting, Siu-Man Raymond

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to identify the variables that predict academic success of Native Americans and Caucasians.The research question is “how well do high school GPA, SAT (formerly Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores and NCQ (Noncognitive Questionnaire) scores, and cultural variables predict Native American and Caucasian students’ GPA and retention in the first year of college?” The results of the study show that a general model to explain academic performance of Caucasian and Native Americans was insufficient and less effective than specific models by ethnicity, which were stronger and provided more indicators of academic success. The study found that although high school GPA was a significant indicator for academic success in the first year of college, the level of acculturation of the Native Americans also affected their academic performance and retention. SAT scores were less effective than the noncognitive variables in predicting the students’ GPA.

Note: This study is adapted from a larger project that was funded by a 1998– 1999 Multicultural Institute for Advanced Thinking and Practice in Admission (MIATPA) grant from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Complete statistical information including tables are available from the MIATPA monograph available from NACAC.

During the past decade, the literature on academic performance and student retention in higher education has multiplied. The academic performance of college students has been studied extensively and theoretical models have been developed to describe various factors affecting their adjustment and academic performance (Astin 1993; Pascarella and Terenzini 1991; Tinto 1993; Sedlacek 1996). Reasons for student attrition of African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans have been discussed extensively (Durham 1983; Fleming 1984; Lang and Ford 1988; Tracey and Sedlacek 1984, 1985). However, little research has focused on Native Americans, who are probably the least studied ethnic group. They accounted for less than 1% of all higher education students in 1996 with approximately 134,000 Native Americans attending college (Wilds and Wilson 1998). The information about factors affecting their retention is very limited. However, Astin (1982) stated that Native Americans had the lowest graduation rate within four years among all ethnic groups. Among all ethnic groups in 1987-89, the Department of Education (1991) recorded the largest decrease of 11.8 % in the first professional degrees awarded to Native Americans and their increase in the first degrees received was the smallest.

Aitken and Falk (1983) reported several major factors that seem to be related to graduation rates of Native Americans in universities such as: personal motivation, parent support, financial aid, faculty responsiveness, and peer support. Native American students had the greatest need for financial support (Mingle and Rodriguez 1990). Other factors related to their academic achievement were family support, feelings of alienation, attitudes toward college and teachers, and personal goals (Lin, LaCounte and Eder 1986). These students face challenges such as insufficient academic preparation, financial problems, improper study habits, and personal issues in college (Scott 1986).

In another study, Cibik and Chambers (1991) found that attrition of Native American students was related to financial problems, loss of support from original community, difficulty in making initial social contacts and engaging in formal organizational activities, insufficient academic confidence, and unclear educational goals. The causal factors were not studied. Cibik and Chambers (1991) concluded that Native American students appear to have more culture– related needs than both African Americans and Hispanics.

In 1986, Sanders reported that cultural conflicts with the dominant white culture such as common traditions, values, and interests caused Native Americans to drop out from universities. In a recent study, Ting and Bryant (1997) found that cultural identity appears to be related to Native Americans’ use of language, peer groups, and family expectations. In addition, their first year GPA was positively related to level of acculturation to the Caucasian culture. The Native American students who were more acculturated to the Caucasian culture had higher GPAs.

These studies indicate that the cultural and psychosocial variables are related to the success of Native American students in college. Therefore, it appears that further studies employing these variables are needed to increase the knowledge base about how cultural and psychosocial variables may effect their academic performance and retention.

Tracey and Sedlacek (1984) developed the Noncognitive Questionnaire (NCQ) which explores psychosocial variables affecting academic performance and student retention. They found eight factors relating to academic success: positive self-concept, realistic self-appraisal system, understanding and coping with racism, preference of long-term goals, a strong supporter, successful leadership experience, demonstrated community service, and acquired knowledge in a field.

Sternberg’s (1985) intelligence theory seems to support Tracey and Sedlacek’s model. Sternberg proposes three types of intelligence: componential, contextual, and experiential intelligence. First, componential intelligence refers to the ability to interpret information in a structured and well-defined context. In the theory, it requires componential intelligence for a person to interpret information in standardized aptitude tests such as the SAT. The current admission system in higher education emphasizes standardized tests that represent this type of intelligence. However, if the educational system is not fully developed for ethnic minorities, these students may not have developed other types of intelligence, i.e. contextual and experiential intelligence. Contextual intelligence is the ability to advice, consult, and influence others through advice giving. Sternberg (1985) defines experiential intelligence as being able to “see issues from different points of view.” Sedlacek hypothesizes that the NCQ can measure the attributes of experiential and contextual intelligence.

The noncognitive model was widely studied and seems to apply to different student populations (Fuertes and Sedlacek 1995; Ting and Robinson 1998; Ting 1997; Tracey and Sedlacek 1985, 1989). Sedlacek and his colleagues reported promising findings using the NCQ to predict college performance for different student groups. For example, White and Sedlacek (1986) found that positive self-concept and successful leadership experience were predictive of success for academically high-risk students in their first year of college. Overall, the noncognitive variables accounted for 54% of the total variance for predicting the grade point averages at the end of the first year. Ting and Robinson (1998) found that a few studies showed the effectiveness of employing the noncognitive variables in predicting grades and retention for different student groups including whites and blacks, Asian Americans, Hispanics, Mexican Americans, specially-admitted students, first-generation and low-income students, student athletes and international students.

In short, the factors affecting academic success of Native Americans and other ethnic groups appear to be different. The purpose of this study is to identify the variables that predict academic success of Native Americans and Caucasians. The research question is: how well do high school GPA, SAT and NCQ scores and cultural variables predict Native American and Caucasian students’ GPA and retention in the first year of college?

Method Procedure

First-year students who enrolled in the Freshman Seminar at a southeastern comprehensive public university participated voluntarily in this study in the fall of 1998. Instructors of the Freshman Seminar distributed and collected the questionnaire in their classes. Each student received a packet that included the Noncognitive Questionnaire (NCQ) (Tracey and Sedlacek 1984), the Native American Cultural Identity Scale (NACIS) (Ting and Bryant 1997), and a consent form. A total of complete responses of 48 Native Americans (12 males and 36 females) and 122 Caucasians (64 males and 58 females) were collected. High school GPA, SAT scores, and registration status in the first year were obtained from their university records.

Measures

Students’ scores on the NCQ, the NACIS, high school GPA, and SAT scores (verbal and mathematics) were predictors of first-year GPA and student retention.

Noncognitive Questionnaire

The NCQ was designed to assess psychosocial aspects that affect student success in college. It contains 23 items: 18 Likert-formated, 2 multiple choice, and 3 open-ended. Eight scales are listed here with highest scores in brackets: (a) positive self-concept (7-27), (b) realistic self– appraisal system (4-14), (c) understanding and coping with racism (5-25), (d) preference of long– term goals (3-13), (e) a strong supporter (3-15), (f) successful leadership experience (3-13), (g) demonstrated community service (2-8), and (h) acquired knowledge in a field (2-8). The NCQ showed a 2-week test-retest reliability of a range from .74 to .94, with a median of .85 for its items (Tracey and Sedlacek 1984). The NCQ appears to have sufficient reliability, content validity, and construct and predictive validity (Tracey and Sedlacek 1984, 1985, 1987, 1989; Ting and Robinson 1998).

Native American Cultural Identity Scale

The Native American Cultural Identity Scale (NACIS) (Ting and Bryant 1997) was based on the design of the Asian American Cultural Identity Scale (Suinn, et al. 1987). The NACIS measures the level of multidimensional acculturation: bicultural development, cognitive, behavior, and attitudinal domains. NACIS consists of a total of 22 multiple choice items on a rating scale of 1 to 5. There are five sub-scales listed in the following with possible scores in brackets: Self– identity (9-45), Peer Groups (8-40), Involvement on Campus (5-20), Language and Art (5-25), and Self-pride (4-20). A lower score represents low acculturation level or high Native American identification and vice versa. Ting and Bryant (1997) found .91, .84, .83, .63, and .66 for the coefficients of internal consistency for the sub-scales correspondingly. The five factors explained a total of 72.0% of the variance.

Criterion Variables

The criterion variables were GPA for fall and spring semesters and student enrollment (being enrolled = 1, dropping out = 0).

Results

The data revealed that the mean NCQ scores of all students were similar to previous studies. Compared to the Caucasian students, the Native Americans appear to have a lower mean score on community services. It may be the result of their minority status in society. In addition, there were relationships between the students’ fall GPA and their NCQ scores. Fall GPA was significantly related to Caucasian students’ successful leadership experience, demonstrated community service, preference of long-term goals, SAT verbal and mathematics scores, expectation of highest level of education, and family expectation. For Native American students, the fall GPA was related to their SAT verbal scores, realistic self-appraisal system, and successful leadership experience.

Predicting GPA

The researchers conducted step-wise multiple regression analysis to identify the predictors for students’ GPA in two steps. First, they computed the analysis with SAT verbal, SAT math, and NCQ scores for the Caucasians and all students and with SAT verbal, SAT math, NCQ, and NACIS scores for the Native American students. Second, they repeated the analysis by adding high school GPA in the prediction models.

Table 1 presents step-wise multiple regression models of Native American and Caucasian students. The models predicting GPA ranged from 14% to 62%. In the first analysis, the prediction model in the fall for all students explained only 14% of the variance. Successful leadership experience and SAT verbal scores were significant predictors for Native Americans, explaining 33% of the total variance. Similar results were found for Caucasians, and the same two variables accounted for 19% of the variance. When high school GPA was added into the prediction models, the overall variances were increased: from 14% to 40% for all students, from 33% to 62% for the Native American students, and from 19% to 35% for the Caucasians. High school GPA became the strongest predictor. Also language and art and self-pride were indicators for Native Americans’ fall GPA.

In the spring semester, in the first analysis the prediction model for the Caucasians and the Native Americans accounted for 20% of the variance, higher than that of the fall semester. Successful leadership experience and language and art were effective predictors for the Native Americans, with 41 % of combined variance explained. For the Caucasian students, SAT mathematics scores, demonstrated community service, and expectation of highest level of education were significant predictors accounting for 18% of the variance. When high school GPA was employed in the prediction models, the variances explained for student GPA were increased for the Caucasians and all students, from 20% to 26% and 18% to 27% respectively. However, the predictors and the variance explained for Native Americans’ GPA remained unchanged. High school GPA was not a predictor for their spring GPA.

Predicting Student Retention

A total of 6 students (3 Caucasians and 3 Native Americans) in the sample dropped out during the fall semester and 18 of them (14 Caucasians and 4 Native Americans) left the university in the spring semester. In the discriminate analysis with step-wise procedure, acquired knowledge in a field was found to be the only predictor that explained Caucasians fall retention (Wilks’ Lamda = .954; Canonical R= .21, X^sup 2^ = 4.45, df = 1, p = .03). In the spring retention, family influence and successful leadership experience were found to be significant predictors (Wilks’ Lamda = .90, Canonical R = .32, X^sup 2^ = 9.80, df = 2, p = .007). For Native Americans, in the fall, SAT verbal scores were the only predictor (Wilks’ Lamda = .852, Canonical R = .38, X ^sup 2^ = 5.35, df = 1, p = .02). No predictors were found for spring student retention.

Discussion

The results show that a general model to explain academic performance of Caucasian and Native Americans was insufficient and less effective than specific models by ethnicity, which were stronger and provided more indicators of academic success. It seems that separate models were needed for each student population. The social and cultural differences between the two student groups may cause the differences. High school GPA seems to be the strongest predictors for student GPA, but not for student retention in the freshman year. In addition, few noncognitive and cultural predictors were found for Native Americans’ academic success. A limitation of the current study is that the sample size of Native Americans was small for multiple regression analysis. Interpretation of the related results should be done with caution. As the authors expected, SAT scores were weak or not significant predictors for first-year GPA and student retention. Instead, a few noncognitive variables were effective predictors including successful leadership experience, demonstrated community service, and highest level of education expected. Self-pride and language and interest in art of Native Americans were important psychosocial and cultural indicators for these students’ academic performance. Literature shows that Native American’s cultural development is related to their academic development (Aiken and Falk 1983; Cibik and Chambers 1991; Sanders 1986). The current study confirmed the authors’ expectation that Native American’s level of acculturation was related to their academic performance.

The Native American group in the current study belongs to the Lumbee, who was regarded to be a unique Indian group possibly having several distant Caucasian ancestors (Dial 1993). The Lumbee people speak in English and they have lost their original language. In the current study, the preference of language and art of the Lumbee students appears to make a difference in their academic performance. Those students who prefer both language and culture are more “Westernized” showed a higher GPA than those who favored only their own culture. Similarly, the identification as both Americans and Native Americans and feeling moderate pride in their ethnic group was related to higher GPA. In brief, the Native Americans who were highly acculturated into the majority American culture performed better than the less acculturated. The Native Americans who have a more thorough understanding of American culture may be better prepared for study in an American university. These students may have experiences involving extracurricular activities in school and in their communities. This may be why the current study found that the students who had successful leadership experiences in high school could survive better and perform well academically in college. Therefore, helping the Native Americans understand American culture and integrate into the society, providing more opportunities for their psychosocial development, and strengthening their English skills in schools are particularly important to prepare for successful university studies.

High school GPA was the most important predictor for the first-year GPA of the Caucasian students. Noncognitive variables including leadership experiences, demonstrated community service, and highest level of education expected were also important for predicting their academic performance and retention. SAT scores were either weak or not an indicator, especially when high school GPA was included in the prediction models. Effectiveness of standardized test scores for admission purposes has long been questioned (Sedlacek 1996). Higher education institutions adopting SAT scores as the primary admission criteria should reevaluate this policy. Some institutions have recently adopted wider admission criteria which include a variety of cognitive and noncognitive variables such as extracurricular activities, leadership experience, and community service (Sedlacek 1998). Admission administrators and counselors need to work together to encourage their institutions to explore their admission policies. It is imperative for professional groups such as the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) to take a leading role to continue to study this problem and discuss their concerns on admission with higher education institutions and agencies.

In summary, the current study found that although high school GPA was a significant indicator for academic success in the first year of college, the level of acculturation of the Native Americans also affected their academic performance and retention. SAT scores were less effective than the noncognitive variables in predicting the students’ GPA. However, this study is only a starting point for research on college-bound Native American students. Native Americans, in the past, have not been studied adequately in terms of preparedness and potential to attend and remain in college. Hopefully, further research on Native Americans will be conducted to confirm the results of the current study as well as to originate new findings in the future.

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Siu-Man Raymond Ting is an assistant professor at North Carolina State University. He is also the coordinator of the Student Development in Higher Education Program in the department of educational research and leadership and counselor education. He received his Ph.D. in counselor education from the University of Iowa. Ting is a 1998-1999 Multicultural Institute for

Advanced Thinking and Practice in Admission (MIATPA) scholar of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). His current research interests are academic performance and retention, and cross-cultural career counseling.

Alfred Bryant, Jr. received his Ph.D. in counselor education from North Carolina State University.

He is a junior faculty member in the Resource Center on Minority Aging Research at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. His

research interests focus on American Indians on topics such as aging, identity, and communication comfort levels dealing with counselors and health professionals.

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