Counseling Center

University of Maryland at College Park

College Park, Maryland



Byron K. Hargrove and William E. Sedlacek

Research Report #6-95





Counseling Interests Among Entering

Black University Students over a Ten-Year Period

Byron K. Hargrove and William E. Sedlacek

Research Report #6-95


The initial counseling interests of entering Black freshmen who completed the "University New Student Census" (UNSC) during the 1984 and 1994 summer orientations at the University of Maryland at College Park were compared and described. Two hundred sixty-five (1994) and ninety (1984) entering Black freshmen responded to two items on the UNSC that assessed their initial interest in seeking counseling for educational/vocational (EV) concerns and emotional/social (ES) concerns.


The results indicated that Black students entering in 1984 expressed more of an interest in seeking EV counseling than ES counseling. Similarly, Black students entering in 1994 also were also more interested in seeking EV counseling than ES counseling. The results suggested that (1) entering Black males and females had more similar than dissimilar counseling interests, (2) the type of counseling appeared to be a better determinant of favorable (or unfavorable) psychological help-seeking attitudes than gender per se, and (3) from 1984 to 1994, interest in seeking help for EV concerns was consistently higher among Black entering students than interest in seeking help for ES concerns.


The findings were discussed in terms of the need for counseling centers and other campus service-providers to provide in-house and outreach counseling services that address the expressed needs and help-seeking interests of Black college students at predominantly White institutions.


Counseling Interests Among Entering

Black Freshmen Over a Ten Year Period


As predominantly White universities increasingly become more culturally diverse, service agencies like college counseling centers must be prepared to provide appropriate psychological services to a variety of college students. These services may range in type (e.g., emotional/social counseling and educational/vocational counseling and academic skills training ), duration (e.g., short-term and long-term counseling and psychotherapy) and modality (e.g., individual, couple, or group). Traditionally, counseling and therapy interventions provided by counseling center practitioners have been assumed to be equally accessible to and appropriate for college students from all backgrounds. However, most studies on the demographic correlates of utilization appear to suggest that help-seekers tend to be young, White, female, have high educational and socioeconomic status, identify themselves as Jewish or not strongly religious, and major in behavioral and social sciences (Cheatham et al., 1987). White college female undergraduates have been found to be particularly more tolerant of the stigma related to seeking psychological help, more open to sharing problems, and more willing to recognize the need for help than White college male undergraduates (Johnson, 1988). In contrast, racial/ethnic minority students, for example, are less likely to be interested in utilizing traditional mental health services in the first place (e.g., Sue & Sue, 1993) including the traditional counseling services provided by counseling centers (e.g., Cheatham, Shelton, & Ray, 1987; Hughes, 1987). Thus, it appears that counseling services are most often sought after, utilized by and perhaps understood by White students at predominantly White universities.


The counseling profession has often been criticized for using theories and interventions that essentially represent a White (or Eurocentric) middle class cultural worldview (Sue & Sue, 1990). As more research over the last twenty years has highlighted the inadequacies and potential limitations of applying traditional counseling




theories and approaches with Blacks and other racial/ethnic minorities (e.g., Carter & Cook, 1992; Leonard, 1985; Sue & Sue, 1990), the latest trend among some mental health professionals has been to begin integrating multicultural information and strategies in the delivery of counseling services to members of diverse and underrepresented groups (e.g., Pedersen, 1991). Providing appropriate and timely services to various groups takes planning and assessment of needs and interests. However, are counseling center practitioners planning their counseling and outreach services around the help-seeking interests of Black students, one of the largest racial/ethnic minority groups across many predominantly White campuses? At the same time, are counseling center personnel becoming more aware of the historical and current cultural biases and assumptions within the content and format of traditional counseling services that may influence the perceptions of counseling among Blacks and other underrepresented help-seekers?


In order to deliver more culturally-relevant services that meet the needs of both racial/ethnic minority and majority help-seekers, practitioners need to assess the expectations and needs of these students at early points in their careers, especially during the freshman year (Stone & Archer, 1990).


Therefore, counseling center practitioners who wish to become more multiculturally competent and help racially diverse clientele may need to be more proactive in assessing the range of psychological help-seeking needs. interests, and preferences that exist among college student groups.

Researchers have conceptualized help-seeking in various ways (Cheatham et al, 1987; Fisher and Turner, 1970; Johnson, 1988; Webster & Fretz, 1978).


One line of inquiry has focused on the attitudes related to help-seeking. Fisher and Turner's (1970) development of their Attitudes Toward Seeking Professional Psychological Help scale has been instrumental in leading others to investigate attitudes (Johnson, 1988). Other researchers have discussed help-seeking in more behavioral terms and include the concept of service utilization as a major subcomponent (c.f. Austin, Carter, & Vaux, 1990). Helpseeking has also been operationalized as preferences for particular help-giving sources



(Webster & Fretz, 19'78) and as initial interests in (i.e., intended behavior toward) seeking counseling for emotional/social, vocational/educational, or alcohol problems (Boyer Sedlacek, 3984; Hill & Sedlacek, 1993; Kim & Sedlacek, 1994). While researchers have been unsystematic in defining help-seeking , they have adopted a multifaceted approach which includes behaviors, attitudes, preferences and interests in tying to understand how and why help-seekers utilize counseling and mental health centers.


The help-seeking behavior of Black at predominantly White institutions has been infrequently examined. Research has suggested that Blacks are less likely to seek, remain in or benefit from traditional forms of counseling and psychotherapy (Sue & Sue, 1990).


One dominant line of help-seeking research has focused on the help-seeking behaviors and attitudes of Blacks compared with those of Whites. To date, racial differences on help­ seeking attitudes at counseling centers have been mixed. Some research suggests that students of color are 'Less likely than their White counterparts to seek and fully participate in counseling, for their problems (Sue & Sue, 1990; Vontress, 1990). However, other studies

suggest that Blacks, foe example, are effectively and proportionately utilizing counseling services at counseling centers (e.g. Atkinson, 1987) and that Blacks and Whites are more similar than dissimilar in their help-seeking behaviors 'Cheatham et al., 1987).


Another line of research has focused on differences in patterns of help-seeking related to the type of psychological services sought. Educational /vocational counseling appears to be the most consistently preferred type of counseling among all college students (Webster & Fretz, 17 a; Mill & Sedlacek, 1975). Students tend to prefer presenting

Educational/vocational problems more than emotional/social problems. Webster and Fretz(1978) found that Black, White, and Asian students were more ready to seek educational/vocational counseling than emotional/social counseling.


However, they also found that the Black students tended to seek counseling centers as the first source of help with career/vocational issues but only as a sixth source for emotional/social issues.



Counseling Interests of Freshmen

In order to aid in retention, a common practice across many colleges and universities is to assess the initial needs and problems that students bring to the university setting. Consequently, understanding the counseling needs and interests of entering students appears to be essential to providing the appropriate services to this community. Previous research has indicated that entering freshmen have been found to be more interested in seeking help for career/educational concerns. Similarly, female entering freshman students have been found to be more interested, in general, in seeking help relative to male entering students (Hill & Sedlacek, 1995).


Initial help-seeking interests (Hill & Sedlacek, 1995) and counseling expectations (Boyer & Sedlacek, 1987) of entering freshmen have been examined and Kim and Sedlacek (1994) have reported the expectations and interests of African Americans related to the college experience. They revealed that African American males had limited interest in seeking counseling for alcohol problems; African American females reported an even lower interest in seeking alcohol-related counseling. However, Kim and Sedlacek (1994) did not report on African-American entering students' interest in seeking counseling for emotional/social or educational/vocational problems which have been found to be more common issues faced by students (Boyer & Sedlacek, 1987).


Clearly more research is needed to understand the experiences of Blacks on college campuses (e.g., Hughes, 1987). Counseling centers can play a vital role in providing early assessments and interventions with first year students and directly address the alienation and isolation issues often experienced by Black students at large predominantly White institutions (Sedlacek, 1987). Thus, in order to assess ways of helping Black students, educationally and socially, investigators need to conduct more research which attempts to describe and predict the initial counseling preferences and interests among Black students as they begin their college experience at predominantly White institutions.



In addition to tracking the initial interests of entering students, service providers should not assume that these counseling interests remain stable over time. Just as changes in the delivery of mental health services have occurred over time, it is reasonable to assume that initial attitudes toward and interests in help-seeking among students may also potentially change.


However, few help-seeking studies have focused exclusively on entering Black freshmen or tracked their interest in counseling over time. Knowledge of any changes in counseling interests among entering students would have implications for how counseling center personnel allocate counseling resources, develop individual and group counseling services, or market unique outreach/consultation activities geared toward those populations.


Thus, in order to adequately provide services that are inclusive of the unique needs or preferences of Black students, counseling center personnel need to assess the initial counseling interests that Black students bring to their university as well as any changes in those help-seeking interests that may have occurred over time. Therefore, the first purpose of this study was to assess the psychological help-seeking or counseling interests among entering Black freshmen at a predominantly White institution. The second purpose of this study was to compare and contrast the initial counseling interests among entering Black freshmen at a predominantly White university during two points in time. Hence, the specific objectives of this study were to (1) assess the expressed interests of the entering Black male and female first year students toward seeking educational/vocational counseling

and emotional/social counseling services during the Fall of 1994 at The University of Maryland at College Park and (2) to examine a decade of potential change by comparing the initial counseling interests of Black first year students entering in 1994 with the initial counseling interests of Black first year students entering in 1984.





Participants were three hundred fifty-five entering freshmen (222 females; 133 males) who self-identified as African-American/Black on two forms of the University New Student Census (UNSC-1994 and UNSC-1984) at a large, eastern, public four-year university. In 1994, two hundred sixty-five entering freshmen (158 females; 107 males) self-identified as African-American/Black on the UNSC-1994. The entering Black freshmen comprised 11 % of the total entering freshmen (N= 2,504) student population who attended the summer orientation and completed the UNSC- 1994. In 1984, ninety entering freshmen (64 females; 26 males) self-identified as African American/Black on the LTNSC-1984 at the same institution. This sample comprised 85% of the total entering freshmen student population (N= 1027) who attended the summer orientation and participated on the UNSC- 1984. More than 90% of all entering freshmen attended the orientation.




University New Student Census (UNSC). The UNSC is an annual questionnaire that is administered to entering freshmen during the summer orientation programs at the University of Maryland at College Park. The UNSC assesses the personal and academic background, educational and work-related goals, interests and campus service needs, socio-political attitudes, and expectations about the college experience of entering college students. Some of the questionnaire items have changed over time while some have remained in order to study trends.


UNSC- 1984 and UNSC-94. The UNSC- 1994 is a 79 item questionnaire that consists of 28 multiple choice items and 51 Likert items. The UNSC-1984 is a 54 item questionnaire that consists of 32 multiple choice items, 21 Likert items, and one fill in the blank item. Items that assess the counseling interests of entering freshmen have remained consistent from the UNSC-1984 and the UNSC-1994. They were as follows:


(1) "1 am interested in seeking counseling regarding educational/vocational plans."

(2) "1 am interested in seeking counseling regarding emotional/social concerns." Item responses were obtained using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Strongly Agree) to 5 (Strongly Disagree).




Questionnaires were administered by counseling center staff and trained graduate and undergraduate students. The administrators informed the entering students that the purpose of the questionnaire was to gather information to help anticipate what services would be most helpful during their college career. Individual responses were kept confidential. Students took approximately twenty minutes to complete the UNSC and virtually 100% participation was achieved.


Data Analysis


Means of the two counseling interest items were used to descriptively compare the responses between Black male and females that were related to the type of counseling and the entering year. Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) by gender and year was conducted.



The multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) procedures revealed no main effect for gender nor any significant gender differences by counseling type. However, there was a main effect for counseling type. As shown in Table 1, entering Black students in 1984 appeared to be more interested in seeking EV counseling (M = 1.88, SD = 0.82) than EV counseling (M=3.51, SD = 1.08). The Black students in the 1984 sample generally had neutral reactions to seeking help for emotional-social concerns, but tended to agree with the idea of seeking help for their educational-vocational plans. Consistent with the 1984 data, the 1994 data revealed that entering Black students were more interested in seeking EV counseling (M= 2.72, SD = 1.29) than ES counseling (M= 3.92, SD = 1.04). These students generally agreed with seeking help for their




educational/vocational plans, but tended to disagree with seeking help for their emotional/social concerns. Both Black males and females appeared to be similar in their initial help-seeking interests. As shown in Table 1, both males and females indicated that


Insert Table 1 about here


they were more interested in seeking educational/vocational counseling than emotional/social counseling. As shown in Figure 1, the 1984 and 1994 data also revealed some consistency that occurred over time. Between 1984 and 1994, interest in


Insert Figure 1 about here


educational/vocational counseling among entering Black freshmen was statistically similar; that is, generally favorable and more likely to be pursued than emotional/social counseling. In contrast, interest in seeking help for emotional/social concerns seemed to have declined slightly and continued to be perceived as relatively less important than seeking help for educational/vocational concerns over a ten year period.



The purpose of this study was to describe and compare the initial counseling interests of entering Black freshmen who participated during the summer orientations at the University of Maryland at College Park during the 1984-5 and 1994-5 academic years. The results suggested that: (1) Black males and females generally enter UMCP with similar patterns of initial counseling interests for emotional/social (ES) and educational/vocational (EV) concerns; (2) the type of counseling service provided (e.g., EV versus ES) appeared to be more important than gender in determining the strength of counseling interest among Black entering students, and (3) the initial counseling interests of the 1984 Black entering



freshmen class were similar to the initial counseling interests of the 1994 Black entering class with EV counseling being the more favorable type each time.


The finding that entering Black freshman students had more favorable interests in seeking help with educational/vocational plans than seeking help with emotional/social concerns in 1984 and 1994 supports other help-seeking studies with Black students (Stabb & Cogdal, 1990; Webster & Fretz, 1978) and entering freshman students at UMCP (Boyer & Sedlacek, 1987; Hill & Sedlacek, 1990). The trend toward more favorable EV helpseeking interests above and beyond that of ES help-seeking interests over a ten year period suggests that addressing vocational issues within a counseling context continues to be more attractive, acceptable, and/or relevant to Black entering students.


The lack of gender differences in initial counseling interests in this study seems to contradict the findings from other studies which suggest that Black females are more likely to make greater use of services than Black men (Cheatham et al., 1987; Hughes, 1987) and have more previous counseling experiences (Stabb & Cogdal, 1992). This study also seems to contradict other help-seeking studies that suggest that college women have more positive psychological help-seeking attitudes (Fischer & Turner, 1970), are more tolerant of the stigma (Johnson, 1988) and have different expectations for counseling (Boyer & Sedlacek, 1987) than college men. Other studies have also suggested that males may have less favorable help-seeking attitudes and behaviors than females because of their gender role expectations or gender role conflicts (Good, Dell, & Mintz, 1989). The generalizability of these studies may be in question because their samples were composed primarily of White students and had small to virtually no Black student participants. On the other hand, there have been studies that have included Black students that have failed to show gender differences in psychological help-seeking behaviors and attitudes (Cheatham et al., 1987; Cimbolic et al., 1981). Thus it appears that more help-seeking studies need to be done which can begin to generalize to unique populations such as Black students.




Practice Implications

Due to poor educational preparation, discrimination, stereotyping, and lack of career information, Blacks have historically been underrepresented in careers offering greater advancements and financial rewards and overrepresented in "protected" careers and lower level jobs (Murry & Mosidi,1993). As the turn of the century approaches, Okacha (1994) maintained that minorities will need to be better prepared for the workforce. Entering Black college students appear to value vocational education and professionals who can help them with their career development.


They may be more willing to seek educational/career-oriented guidance and less likely to seeking emotional/social-oriented counseling because career counseling is seen as less stigmatic. In light of these findings, psychological service-delivery agencies like counseling centers that wish to better attract Black student help-seekers into counseling may need to consider implementing in-house and outreach services that directly focus on their educational and career development issues, e.g. self-assessment, career decision-making, access to career information, and strategies for handling career-related barriers. These students may first be attracted into counseling to address their career issues, but may also begin to examine their emotional/social issues as well. For example, Stabb and Cogdal (1992) found that Black college males have been found to typically present career concerns, but were also concerned about their personal/social issues e.g., assertiveness and self-esteem issues. Hence, additional efforts must be made by service providers to educate Black students about the range and format of services that can address their needs and how their psychological and adjustment issues overlap with each other. Research Implications


Future studies need to assess some of the reasons that entering freshmen bring to campuses that lie behind their initial counseling interests and help-seeking attitudes. Researchers may want to explore why Black students want to utilize counseling services and why they may not (e.g. Atkinson, 1990). Researchers may need to examine Black entering students attitudes toward counselors, counseling centers, and other help-related agencies to in order to understand patterns of utilization. Other studies need to examine whether these help-seeking behavior changes during college. Future studies also need to track whether or not these entering students with favorable or unfavorable counseling interests ever utilized counseling services and what were the factors that influenced their participation. In addition to exploring gender as a within-group variable, other studies should investigate ethnic group differences among Blacks (e.g. African Americans v. Caribbean descent) or how racial identity attitudes of Black students relate to their initial help-seeking attitudes.




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Table 1: *Means and Standard Deviations of Black Entering Freshman Counseling Interests by Type of Counseling and Year

















































1 = Strongly Agree (or high interest in counseling)

5 = Strongly Disagree (or low interest in counseling)






Mean Response

                 EDUC/VOC              EMOT/SOCIAL




1984  1994