College Success Program for Minorities

In college environments, experts commonly observe that minority students underperform in academics and are less physically healthy. This scenario could be attributed to their lack of a sense of belonging to the campus and among their classmates. The current study tests whether minority college freshmen are impacted by a short-time intervention in the form of a message stating that facing adverse situations is common to all new college students. The effect of this message after three years at college was evaluated, and the consolidated results supported this intervention.

Educational failures and poor health choices are grave consequences of social discrimination. These effects are more pronounced during a person’s college-going years. As freshmen, students from minority backgrounds almost always enter college with a deep sense of insecurity that they do not belong among the general student population. Effective psychological inputs during the initial college days contribute greatly to reassure these students. This plan could be implemented through the message that isolation and loneliness affects all new students, and that social adversity is common and momentary. This motto helps students to merge with the general college crowd and, ultimately, score higher grades and maintain good health.

* The study participants were composed of 49 African Americans and 43 Caucasian Americans in the latter half of their first year at college. They were asked to fill out questionnaires reporting an estimate of difficulties they faced.
* They were counseled about difficulties being a part of the natural adjustment to college life, followed by exposure to senior students’ reports of settling into college.
* Another survey was conducted during the third year of college to measure the impact of the intervention.
* Participants were requested to permit access to their grades for research purposes.

Key findings
* The intervention effectively boosted grade point averages (GPA) in both African Americans and Caucasian Americans by their senior year. The initial difference in GPA between minority and non-minority sections was reduced by 52 percent after the intervention.
* The number of African Americans in the top 25 percent of the class tripled after the project.
* There was also a marked improvement on health parameters, as evinced from the decrease in doctor visits per month from 60 to 28 percent of participating African Americans.
* The reported happiness quotient was enhanced.

Next steps/shortcomings
The observed changes in mental and physical health are likely to have an underlying physiological basis. This requires deeper analysis beyond self-reports. Interpretations of students’ reports could be vague and may not hold well in situations of established hostility. The extrapolation of this intervention to other student populations needs to be assessed.

Feeling out-of-place in the early college years can often be imaginary exaggerations. Reassurance of a smooth transition helps students settle in a lot easier. This could be reinforced by early betterment in performance and spreading the message of this study. They must clearly be given the understanding that dealing with initial hardships is not unique to minority students, but an integral part of natural adjustment to college life. The intervention in terms of effective counseling has been found to have a long-term effect on their social outlook itself, reaching way beyond college performance. Those who experience the benefit may initiate social interactions that strengthen their sense of belonging. The very fact that the project was understated and not noticed by the students later on, lends to the long-lasting positive effect, as observed in this study.

For More Information:
Timely Psychological Reassurance Improves Academics and Health in Minority Students
Publication Journal: Science, March 2011
By Gregory M. Walton; Geoffrey L. Cohen; Stanford University, Stanford, California

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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