COUNSELING CENTER

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND

 

PROFILES OF POTENTIAL PERSISTER AND NONPERSISTER

UNIVERSITY STUDENTS

 

Marie L. Miville and William E. Sedlacek

 

Research Report #8-90

 

Data were collected in cooperation with the Orientation office and were analyzed using facilities at the Computer Science Center, both at the University of Maryland, College Park.


COUNSELING CENTER

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND

 

PROFILES OF POTENTIAL PERSISTER

AND NONPERSISTER UNIVERSITY STUDENTS

Marie L. Miville and William E. Sedlacek

Research Report # 3-90

SUMMARY

 

Profiles of college students who are likely to be retained vs. not retained were derived from a sample of 934 entering freshmen. These students completed a general attitudinal questionnaire that contained a noncognitive item measuring positive self-concept; previous research had shown this item to be strongly predictive of student retention (eg., Tracey and Sedlacek, 1934) and it formed the basis of the profiles in the current study. Results pointed to several important differences between potential persister and nonpersister students; specifically, potential persister students tended to have 1) greater academic focus, 2) fewer financial concerns, and 3) more on campus involvement/connection.

 

Gender differences among the profiles were also found; potential nonpersister female students tended to express greater financial concerns while male nonpersisters were more focused on personal, developmental concerns. Suggestions made for the possible uses of these profiles by student affairs professionals included early identification programs of potential nonpersisters and intervention strategies, such as establishing support networks, aimed at helping students remain in school.

 

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The attrition rate for college students has remained fairly constant for the last sixty years; 50-60% of students over fouryear periods leave without receiving a college degree within that time (Summerskill, 1962; Astin, 1972). In the past, these percentages were considered from an ethical standpoint, involving questions of "equal opportunity arid access to higher education, loss of talent, and student waste of time and effort" (Lea, Sedlacek, and Stewart, 1979, p. 2). An emphasis was placed on the deficiencies of the individual student who was not able to meet the academic standards of a particular institution.

 

The number of college-aged Students has diminished, however, and the attrition rate has become a practical issue since colleges and universities are increasingly less likely to replace students who drop out (Shulman, 1976) . Many schools are now being forced to consider attrition a5 a retention issue, signaling a shift in responsibility for dropout rates froth individual efforts to institutional practices. To promote retention and prevent attrition, schools must now adapt educational policies that reflect the needs of a greater diversity of students (Lea, Sedlacek, and Stewart, 1979).

 

Integral to reflecting the diversity of students is addressing the differential characteristics of various subgroups within student populations which may affect retention rates. For example, retention rates for Black students are significantly lower (Astin, 1982; Sedlacek and Pelham, 1976), especially for Black students attending predominantly White universities (Sedlacek and Webster, 1978). Lower retention rates for Blacks

 

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and other minorities have been attributed to nonacademic reasons, principally noncognitive factors that affect a student's ability to finish college (Sedlacek, 1987; Tracey and Sedlacek, 1934).

 

While significant gender differences in student retention generally have not been noted (eq., Institutional Studies, 1989), it is possible that there are gender differences in factors leading to retention. For example, differences in self confidence in achievement situations have been observed (Lenney, 1977; Betz and Fitzgerald, 1987), although women's lack of self confidence may be mediated by situational variables such as the specific abilities involved and the availability of feedback. These differences in self-confidence may affect self-concept, a noncognitive factor shown to be an important predictor of academic success for both Blacks and Whites (Tracey and Sedlacek, 1984). There is also some evidence that women react differently than men when placed in predominantly male colleges; they tend to either overachieve or perform at very mediocre levels (Brown and Marenco, 1980). It is important, therefore, for educational policies to also be aware of, and prepared to reflect, potential differences in the needs of men and women in dealing with retention problems.

 

Sedlacek and Brooks (1976) proposed seven noncognitive variables related to student success and satisfaction in higher education: 1) positive self-concept, 2) realistic self-appraisal, 3) ability to deal with racism, 4) preference for long-term goals vs. short-terra or immediate goals, 5) availability of a strong support person, 6) successful leadership experience, and 7)

 

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demonstrated community service. Tracey and Sedlacek (1984) devised a measure that reliably assesses these variables along with an eighth factor, knowledge acquired in a field.

 

The Noncognitive Questionnaire (NCQ) is a better predictor than traditional variables such as SAT scores of both GPA and retention rates, especially for Black students (Tracey and Sedlacek, 1984, 1985, 1987), although no studies have been carried out using the NCQ to predict retention rates on the basis of gender. The overall predictability of the NCQ has been linked to its ability to measure factors related to post-freshman performance not tapped by more traditional variables (Tracey and Sedlacek, 1984, 1985, 1987; Wilson, 1981, 1983); it provides valuable information for retention rate predictions that is not measured by SAT scores and high school GPA's.

 

To further enhance the utility of the NCQ, especially with respect to the prediction of student retention, each of the eight variables can tie separately analyzed and related to other variables. For example, positive self-concept has been found to be an important noncognitive variable, being predictive of GPA at all points in students' academic career:, for both Blacks and Whites (Tracey and Sedlacek, 1 985) . Self-confidence also has: been consistently predictive of persistence in college, again, for both Blacks and Whites (Tracey and Sedlacek, 1985). Finding other correlates, of this stable predictor may thus prove useful; one possible application is to create profiles of students who are likely to be retained as opposed to students who are likely to prematurely leave college. Educators and student affairs professionals can then use these profile:: in their efforts to

 

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better understand and provide services to students, especially at a time when this help is most needed, at the beginning of a student's academic career.

 

Method

 

A questionnaire designed to obtain general attitudinal and demographic information, was administered to a random sample of 934 students (52"% male and 48% female) attending a freshman summer orientation program at a large eastern university. The questionnaire contained an NCQ item measuring self-concept that asked: "Nationally, about 50% of university students leave before receiving a degree. If this should happen to you, which of the following do you think would be the most likely reason?" Students selected a response from the following choices: "1.) Absolutely certain that I will obtain a degree, 2.) To accept a good job, 3.) To enter military service, 4.) It would cost mute than my family or- I could afford, 5.) Marriage, 6.) Disinterest in study, 7.) Lack of scholastic ability, 8.) insufficient reading or other academic skill, and 9.) other. This item has been shown to be the best predictor of retention on the NCQ; previous research has demonstrated that those selecting the first option were more likely to stay in school than those selecting the other options Macey and Sedlacek, 1984, 1985). Data were analyzed by a 2 x 2 multivariate analysis of variance, with the NCQ item and gender as main effects, and chi--square tests. The NCQ item was analyzed as a dichotomous variable; categories were made up o% responses to choice #1 (those who will definitely stay) and responses to choices #2--9 (those who might leave fox

 

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any reason). Reported findings were significant at the .05 level.

 

Results

 

Although there was no significant interaction between the NCQ item and gender, the main effects for gender and the NCQ item were significant. The focus will be upon the main effect for NCQ item since it is correlated with student retention. Questionnaire items differentiating potential persisters and nonpersisters are shown in Table 1.

 

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Insert Table 1 about here

 

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Using the NCQ item as a grouping variable, chi-square analyses also revealed significantly different responses on several questionnaire items. These data were separately analyzed for men and women and are summarized in Tables 2 and 3.

 

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Insert Table 2 about here

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Males--Persisters. Male respondents who listed their certainty of remaining in college ("persisters") stated that the most likely reasons for remaining in college were to gain experience from

extra-curricular activities and to enter into graduate school. Persisters indicated that an educational philosophy emphasizing individual interests and styles, a concern for personal identity,

and detachment from the college, faculty, and administration was least descriptive of their attitudes toward their purposes and goals in college. These students were relatively less dependent

 

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upon part-time work to remain in college.

 

Male persisters listed their weakest academic areas as notetaking, writing, and taking exams and felt stronger in mathematics arid study habits:; skills and abilities that these students wished most to improve were being physically active and "other" skills and abilities. Coursework, social life, and political or social groups were listed as most contributing to their development in the previous year.

 

Males--Nonpersisters. Male respondents who listed reasons for leaving college before obtaining a degree ("nonpersisters") stated that the most likely reasons for their remaining in school were parental expectations (100% of all male students choosing this alternative were "nonpersisters"), the opportunity to meet and know people, earning more money, and pursuing knowledge and ideas. In contrast to persisters, these students tended to identify an educational philosophy emphasizing individual interests and detachment from college as most descriptive of their attitudes toward attending school. These students were also more dependent upon part-time work to remain in school.

 

Male noripersisters felt relatively weaker in the academic areas of mathematics and study habits and stronger at notetaking, writing, and taking exams. Skills or abilities these students wished most to improve were speaking before a group, being more assertive, and being able to influence others. Jobs and friendships most contributed to their development in the previous year.

 

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Insert Table 3 about here

 

Females--Persisters. Racial and ethnic differences were observed among female students in response to the NCQ item. Relatively more Asian or Pacific Islander students stated that they would definitely stay in school. And as with male students, female persisters were less dependent on part-time jobs in order to remain in school. In response to the question "What will be your work status this year?", these students stated that they either had no plan to work or had "other" plans.

 

The highest academic degree that female persisters intended to achieve was a medical degree; their average high school grades were A's or A+'s. Female persisters listed fraternities/sororities or campus academic groups as formal organizations they expected to join. Females--Nonuersisters. A relatively greater percentage of women who listed potential reasons for prematurely leaving college were African-American, Hispanic or Latin American, and American Indian oz Alaskan Native. Again, as with male students, nonpersisters depended on part-time work to stay in -school A proportionally greater number of female nonpersisters stated that they would work in a federally funded work/study program, other on-carr;pus work, or would work off-campus. These students also did not generally expect to join a formal group that they hoped to be identified with or, listed off-campus organizations or political group..

 

Female nonpersisters either did not expect to complete a

 

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degree or listed associate (A.A. or equivalent:) or bachelor's (B.A. or B.S.) degree. The average high school grade that nonpersisters obtained was C or C+.

 

Discussion

 

Results indicate that an NCQ item measuring positive self-concept can help to create a more detailed profile of students who are likely to be retained vs. students who may leave without obtaining a college degree. The following categories are used to organize aspects of student profiles that might be helpful to student affairs professionals in their work with potential nonpersisters.

 

1) Academic Focus. Nonpersisters seemed less sure from the start of their wish to attend college, let alone fulfill the requirements for obtaining a bachelor's degree. These students also seemed less confident, less able in their academic achievement skills and less interested in improving them. They held relatively lower expectations that their courses would be stimulating and exciting. Nonpersisters seemed less able or willing to work within institutional structures; they were more likely to want to design a major of their own than to choose established majors. Previous research supports this finding; Sedlacek, Bailey, and Stovall (1984) found that nonconformist students who have difficulty "following the rules" tended to be less likely to stay in school.

 

Student affairs Professionals need to assess potential nonpersisters' attitudes and expectations toward pursuing an academic degree: and their abilities to fulfill such a coal. This

 

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is especially true for male students who expressed greater concerns about .-aspects of their self-concept, for example, their ability to assert themselves and influence others, that, if not addressed, could be exacerbated when attending a university.

 

Once these attitudes and expectations have been explored, these students could possibly be referred for counseling that focuses on career/academic concerns and personal issues that may relate to these concerns. They may also be enrolled in academic skills training classes should this be deemed necessary.

 

Another direction which student professionals might take is giving students direct access to activities which both interest them and help build positive self-attitudes. An experiential learning office, for example, could design such programs.

 

2) Financial Concerns. Nonpersisters seem to deal with more financial worries than do persisters. Part-time work was found to be a necessity for most of these students in order for them to remain in school. This seems especially true for female nonpersisters who were more likely than female persisters to have plans to work during the school semester.

 

Programs focusing upon retention must aggressively pursue monies available to these students. Part of these efforts may focus upon aiding the potential nonpersister in the often confusing and labyrinthian financial aid process. Courses could be offered specifically to these students which teach them general steps that need to be followed within this process; financial aid counselors could be assigned to these students to help identify their specific nerds and to assist them in finding additional monetary sources.

 

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3) On Campus Involvement/Connection. The fact that nonpersisters often work could relate to their general lack of on-campus involvement; they simply do not have as much time to spend on campus arid in non-paying organizations. Racial/ethnic: issue: may also affect a student's choice of social organization. A

minority student may go off campus and into the community because of cultural norms (Hughes, 198,8) or because that is where a student feels she or he might be heard and have influence (Sedlacek, 1987).

 

Counseling centers can focus on these last two aspects, financial worries and on-campus connections, by scheduling support groups as conveniently as possible. Group members will be able to share their concerns about the stress of simultaneously working arid attending school. These students might also be counseled, either individually or collectively, on strategies of time management that may free them to become more actively involved on-campus. Racial/ethnic issues of joining social organizations additionally might be discussed within this context.

 

Racial and ethnic concerns can also be dealt with through student organizations, such as Black or Hispanic student unions. Fuertes, Sedlacek, and Westbrook (1990) found that it is difficult for Hispanic students to choose between Hispanic and general student groups. Student affairs professionals and academic advisors can help students with advantages and disadvantages of making decisions on which groups to join. This can help minority students riot only become socially involved, but able to fulfill academic requirements. Individual tutoring and provision of computers are but two means to achieve this end.

 

4) Gender differences. Men and women differed significantly on several aspects of these profiles. Although some of these differences have already been noted, certain general themes can also be found. Male students seemed to be distinguished from each other on a specificity of intent continuum. Persisters tended to choose specific reasons, for remaining in school, such as entering graduate school, while potential nonpersisters seemed to be in college for more general reasons, such as meeting people, making more money, or pursuing knowledge. Potential nonpersisters also tended to be more externally motivated, that is, parental expectations were cited by many as a primary reason for remaining in school. Factors affecting respondents' development in the past year also support a specificity of intention distinction. Persisters chose coursework and political/social groups and nonpersisters close friendships and jobs.

 

This distinction could be helpful for professionals who deal with potential nonpersisters. Developmental issues might be relevant here; the choice of an individualistic, self-focused educational philosophy could indicate male nonpersisters' concern with personal identity and adolescent issues and a lack of readiness to face vocational decisions associated with choosing courses and a major. According to Perry's (1970) cognitive developmental model, it is possible that these students are not yet able to see beyond the authority position of the university; they react negatively to this perceived authority and cannot see themselves working within the context of the university. Potential persisters, in contrast, are more willing or able to look for opportunities in a variety of ways, one of which may involve working within the school system.

 

Counseling male students at risk of dropping out might involve exploring the client's motivations with respect to persistance in college and assessing client readiness to deal with vocational concerns. Such concerns could alternatively be phrased in a self-searching vein; "finding oneself" through an individually designed major is a possible intervention strategy. This focus could also constructively address a student's intensely individualistic stance by helping the client to discover potential ways of balancing the need to be individual with the need to work within an institutional setting.

 

Profiles for female persisters and nonpersisters are more focused on external concerns. An important distinction between women who stay in school and women who leave is along racial/ethnic lines. Asian-American students tended to be certain about staying in school while African--American, Latin American, and Native American women all tended to list reasons for prematurely leaving school in proportionally greater numbers. This finding is particularly disturbing; some minority women could rye responding to the double burden of being female- and being from a visible racial/ethnic group in a predominantly White university by dropping out. Cultural and gender issues, may interact by developing farther education for women

 

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especially if resources are limited.

 

Student affairs Professionals could help to establish support network within the ,academic setting that promotes intracultural communication between faculty and students (men may also benefit from such a program). Minority women could also become involved in support groups geared toward their needs; career counseling could focus on helping a female student deal with the stresses of both institutional racism and sexism.

 

This study has shown that creating detailed profiles of students who may be retained vs. non-retained can be a useful endeavor. Ideally, universities and colleges could develop from these profiles more individualized programs tailored to the needs of each student who is potentially at risk of leaving school prematurely. An alternative avenue might be to create programs that help persisters continue in their educational goals.

 

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References

 

Astin, A.W. (1972). College dropouts: A national profile. Washington, D.C: American Council on Education.

 

Astin, A.W. (1982). Minorities in American higher education: Recent trends, current prospects, and

recommendations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 

Betz, N.E., & Fitzgerald, (1987). The career psychology of women. Orlando: Academic Press, Inc.

 

Boyer, S.P., & Sedlacek, W.E. (1989). Noncognitive predictors of counseling center use by international

students. Journal of Counseling and Development, 67, 404-407.

 

Brown, S.E., & Marenco, E., Jr. (1980). Law school admissions study. San Francisco: Mexican-American Legal

Defense and Educational Fund.

 

Fuertes, J., Sedlacek, W.E., & Westbrook, F.D. (1989). A needs assessment of Hispanic students at a

predominantly White university (Counseling Center Research Report no. 21-89). College Park: University of Maryland.

 

Hughes, M.S. (1988). Developing leadership potential for minority women. In M.D. Sagaria (Ed.), Empowering

women: Leadership development strategies on campus. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 

Institutional Studies. (April/May, 1989). Progress reports: Entering full-time freshmen, 1903-1987.

(Available from Office of Institutional Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742)

 

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Lea, D.H., Sedlacek, W.E., & Stewart, S.S. (1979). Problems of retention research in higher education.

Journal of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), 17(1), 2-8.

 

Lenney, E. (1977). Women's self-confidence in achievement settings. Psychological Bulletin, 84, 1-13.

 

Perry, W. Jr. (1970). Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years: A scheme. New York:

Rinehart & Winston.

 

Sedlacek, W.E. (1987). Blacks in White colleges: Twenty years of research. Journal of College Student

Personnel, 28, 484495.

 

Sedlacek, W.E., Bailey, B., & Stovall, C. (1984). Following directions: An unobtrusive measure of student

success. Journal of College Student Personnel, 25, 556-557.

 

Sedlacek, W.E., & Brooks, G.C., Jr. (1976). Racism in American education: A model for change. Chicago:

Nelson-Hall, Inc.

 

Sedlacek, W.E., & Pelham, J.C. (1976). Minority admissions to large universities: A national survey. Journal

of Nonwhite Concerns in Personnel and Guidance, 4, 53-63

 

Sedlacek, W.E., & Webster, D.W. (197?). Admisson and retention of minority students in large universities.

Journal of College Student Personnel, 19, 242-240.

 

Shulman, C.H. (1976). Recent trends in student retention. ERIC Higher Educational Research Currents, May,

1-4.

 

Sunmnerskill, J. (1962) . Dropouts from college. In N. Sanford (Ed.), The American College. New York;: Wiley.

 

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Tracey, T.J., & Sedlacek, W.E. (1984). Noncognitive variables in predicting academic success by race.

Measurement and Evaluation in Guidance, 16, 171-178.

 

Tracey, T.J., & Sedlacek, W.E. (1985). The relationship of noncognitive variables to academic success: A

longitudinal comparison by race. Journal of College Student Personnel, 26, 405-410.

 

Tracey , T.J., & Sedlacek, W.E. (1987). Prediction of college graduation using noncognitive variables by

race. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 19, 177-184.

 

Wilson, K.M. (1981). Analyzing the long-term performance of minority and non-minority students: A tale of two

studies. Research in Higher Education, 15, 351-357.

 

Wilson, K.M. (1983). A Review of research on the prediction of academic performance after the freshman year

(RR 83-11). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

 

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Table 1: Means* and Standard Deviations of Items Showing Differences Between Potential Persisters and Nonpersisters

 

Potential Persisters

 

Potential Nonpersisters

Item**

Mean

SD

 

Mean

SD

I'd like to deign my own major.

3.4

1.01

 

3.24

1.05

I know how to use a library well.

2.31

0.87

 

2.5

0.95

It is difficult for me to write papers.

3.25

1.09

 

3.06

1.15

I expect that my courses will be stimulating.

2.23

0.81

 

2.36

0.81

I seriously thought about not going to college.

4.67

0.82

 

4.23

1.15

I would prefer to commute than live on campus.

3.84

1.23

 

3.63

1.31

I am interested in improving my own writing skills.

2

0.88

 

1.9

0.74

Financial assistance should be based on merit, not need.

3.33

1.13

 

3.5

1.12

Chances are good that I will drop out temporarily before I complete a bachelors degree.

4.57

0.69

 

4.16

0.84

*1 = Strongly Agree, 5 = Strongly Disagree

**All differences shown to be significant at .05 level.

 

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Table 3

 

Characteristics of Female Potential Persisters and Nonpersisters inters

 

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Persisters

 

1. Racial/ethnic factors: More Asian or Pacific Islanders characterized as persisters

 

2. Highest intended degree: Medical

 

3. Average high school grade: A or A+

 

4. Formal groups. identified with: Fraternities/sororities, campus academic groups

 

5. Financial concerns: Not dependent upon part-time work to remain in school

 

6. Work status: No plan to work

 

Nonpersisters

 

1. Racial/ethnic factors: More African-American, Hispanic or Latin American, and American Indian or Alaskan

native characterized as nonpersisters

 

2. Highest intended degree: None, Associate, Bachelor's or other

 

3. Average high school grade: C or C+

 

4. Formal groups identified with: off-campus organization, political group, or did not expect to identify with any group

 

5. Financial concerns: Dependent upon part-time work to remain in school

 

6. Work status.: Plan to work in federally funded work/study program, other on-campus work, or off-campus work

 

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