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These 3 factors get people through college

A new report identifies three factors that could help students complete college.

US college enrollments are increasing, suggesting greater educational attainment; however, national college completion rates are lagging behind other developed nations.

Coauthors of the report reviewed 49 articles targeting 61 experimental studies that examined interventions to improve educational attainment.

Across these studies, three competencies most frequently showed evidence of supporting students’ college persistence and success, as measured by grades, retention, and graduation:

1. Do you fit in?

A sense of belonging, meaning that college students (particularly underrepresented minorities and first-generation college students) feel that they belong in college, fit in well, and are socially integrated. Approximately 85 percent of the studies measuring students’ sense of belonging demonstrated a positive impact of belonging on students’ college GPAs.

2. How do you think about your intelligence?

A growth mindset, referring to college students’ beliefs that their own intelligence is not a fixed entity, but rather a malleable quality that college can help improve. Seventy-five percent of the studies measuring students’ growth mindset showed this characteristic had a positive impact on students’ college GPAs.

3. Where are you headed?

Personal goals and values that college students perceive to be directly linked to the achievement of a future, desired end. Approximately 83 percent of the studies measuring personal goals showed this characteristic as having a positive impact on students’ final course grades.

Coauthor Frank Oswald, a psychology professor at Rice University, notes that this recent research reports some remarkable findings based on low-cost, brief writing exercises for improving these intra- and interpersonal competencies.

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One required students to write about the relevance of course topics to their own life or to the life of a family member or close friend. Another intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and transient, and used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the framing in their writing.

With these interventions, GPAs have been shown impressively to improve not only in the class where the intervention was given, but also many semesters beyond, Oswald says.

Furthermore, the interventions show the largest benefits accrue in student groups that are at greatest risk for academic failure. Oswald notes that these interventions have promise but deserve further intensive research to assure these interventions can impact student success in the future, in other college settings.

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Oswald says measures of intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies should be held to rigorous development procedures and statistical standards, just like the SAT, ACT, MCAT, LSAT, and other standardized tests of cognitive competencies.

“It is important to investigate these measures carefully, for example, because students can differ in how they interpret the meaning of rating scales, or sometimes they feel pressured to present themselves in the best light,” says Oswald.

He and his coauthors recommend further research in partnership with higher education institutions to build on the report’s findings and to find reliable ways to track these intra- and interpersonal characteristics that can lead to increased college completion.

The National Science Foundation commissioned the report and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine sponsored the work.

Source: Rice University

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