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Social Supports and Self-efficacy in College Success

Social Supports and Self-efficacy in College Success

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Published by Patricia Dillon

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Published by: Patricia Dillon on Nov 12, 2010
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RESEARCH TO PRACTICE BRIEF
Fall, 2010
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL SUPPORTSAND SELF-EFFICACY INCOLLEGE SUCCESS
With an increased national focus on postsecondary degree completion,this Research to Practice brief highlights the roles of social supports andself-efficacy in the academic success of students and features advice fromcollege access and success practitioners at Bottom Line, a nonprofit thataims to help students “get into college, graduate, and go far in life.”
Over the past three decades, our nation haswitnessed great increases in college-goingrates—no doubt due in part to widespreadefforts by education policymakers andcollege access practitioners. Yet despiteprogress, just over half of students enrolledin four-year institutions graduate within sixyears (NCES 2009). Underserved studentsgraduate at even lower rates and face signifi-cant barriers throughout the educationalpipeline. To address low completion rates,the Obama administration has spurred anational movement focused on increasingthe number of individuals seeking andcompleting a postsecondary credential.Federal and state policymakers, philanthro-pists, and education practitioners have unitedaround this agenda, leading to a number of initiatives at the national, state, and locallevels to increase college completion.A closer look at completion rates show thatwhile enrollment numbers are increasing,gaps persist in degree attainment acrossracial/ethnic groups and socioeconomicstatus. For instance:
Low-income, first-generation collegestudents are nearly four times morelikely to leave higher education after their first year than are students who haveneither risk factors (Engle and Tinto2008).
Of White students seeking a bachelor’sdegree, 60 percent graduate within sixyears, compared with 38, 40, and 49percent of Native American, African-American, and Latina/o students respec-tively (Knapp, Kelly-Reid, and Ginder 2010).
African-American and Latina/o studentsmake up 25 percent of the total postsec-ondary student population, yet make uponly 17 percent of degree recipients(Synder, Dillow, and Hoffman 2009).
In 2007 only 11 percent of low-income,first-generation students earned abachelor’s degree within six years,(Engle and Tinto 2008).
Low-income community college studentsare half as likely to successfully transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree as their higher-income peers (ACSFA 2008).
The Role of College Access Practitioners
Critical to the national college completionmovement, the role of college accesspractitioners has evolved into one thatfocuses on ensuring students not only have
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL SUPPORTS AND SELF-EFFICACY IN COLLEGE SUCCESS
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access to college, but also successfully graduate. To this end,this brief synthesizes existing scholarly research on socialsupports and self-efficacy, two factors that have been shownto influence retention for underrepresented student groups inpostsecondary education. It is our hope that by sheddingmeaningful light on these important dimensions of studentsuccess, we can help college access practitioners better tailor their work to increase student success.
What Research Tells Us: Social Supports and Self-Efficacy
Social Supports
College persistence relies heavily on students’ perception thatthey are academically and socially integrated into campus life(Hurtado and Carter 1997). Integration leads to an increased“sense of belonging,” which can in turn help mitigate factorsthat impede or act as barriers to persistence (Hausmann,Schofield, and Woods 2007). A challenge of the integrationperspective, however, is the emphasis placed on assimilationand acculturation, whereby the backgrounds and experiencesof underrepresented students may be disregarded (Cabrera2005; Kraemer 1997; Kuh and Love 2000; and Tierney 1992).Particularly for underrepresented students, a sense of belong-ing depends on their ability to identify with an environment thatallows for the feeling of inclusion. This includes identifying withfellow students, finding belonging among students groups or organizations, identifying with an institution’s mission, or theway in which faculty teach subject matter. Students who arefirst in their family to attend college often feel the leastincluded in the college or university environment. Yet, positivechanges can be made at both the institutional and studentlevels to increase sense of belonging and minimize barriers tostudent success (Padilla 1997).Positive peer relationships, faculty and staff mentors, andfamilial and community support are types of social supportscritical in promoting sense of belonging and increasingstudent persistence. For example:
Peer Support 
Strong peer networks strengthens academic and socialdevelopment for first generation and racial/ethnic minoritystudents (Dennis, Phinney, and Chuateco 2005).
Participation in a living-learning community—specializedresidential programs providing direct connections withfaculty and specific academic units and departments—increases students’ participation in enriching educationalexperiences (Heiss, Cabrera, and Brower 2008).
There is something distinctly important about the
 percep-tion
of social supports, including friendship, peer mentor-ship, and inclusion felt within the overarching campusenvironment. This perception is one of the most importantfactors in the decision to stay or leave college for Latina/oundergraduates (Gloria et al. 2005).
Faculty and Staff Mentors
Establishing faculty and staff mentors is critical to theinclusion and subsequent success of underrepresentedstudents (DeWitz, Woolsey, and Walsh 2009).
Feelings of isolation are more pronounced for low-incomeand first-generation students, and can often lead to stressand anxiety in academic settings. Because these groupsspend less time on campus and tend to work off-campus,building relationships with faculty inside and outside theclassroom is important (Engle and Tinto 2008).
For underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, develop-ing a research relationship with faculty not only impactsstudent sense of belonging but also enhances researchself-efficacy, which in turn increases learning gains(Strayhorn 2010).
Black men that experience supportive relationships withfaculty, staff, and peers, experience greater levels of satisfaction with college. For some, this offsets socioeco-nomic disadvantages that may threaten odds for collegesuccess (Strayhorn 2008).
Familial and Community Support 
Family and community support has a positive influence onthe persistence of first-generation students, especiallyfirst-generation Latinas (Gloria et al. 2005).
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THE ROLE OF SOCIAL SUPPORTS AND SELF-EFFICACY IN COLLEGE SUCCESS
Social Supports: Strategies that foster and fortifysocial networks, campus-connectedness andsense of belonging, self-confidence, and academicmotivation. Such supports include positiverelationships with faculty and strong peer-to-peer networks, both of which help provide students withthe personal agency needed for academic success.Self-Efficacy: The belief that an individual has inher or his ability to achieve a goal or outcome,such as degree attainment. Self-efficacy can bedeveloped through providing realistic andmeaningful affirmations, documenting andcelebrating achievements, and encouragingstudents to participate in cooperative learningenvironments such as formal study groups, first-year seminars, and residential advising programs.
Definitions
 
Students with high family interaction not only report higher GPAs, but also have higher academic self-efficacy(Turner, Chandler, and Heffer 2009).
First-generation students’ perception of family supportinfluences their ability to manage the academic andemotional rigors of college (Dennis, Phinney, andChuateco 2005; Melendez and Bianco Melendez 2010).
 
 Academic Self-Efficacy 
Self-efficacy is defined as an individual’s perceived capabilityin performing the necessary tasks to achieve personal goals(Bandura 1997). Academic self-efficacy is one of the major cognitive factors influencing the academic success of under-represented students, particularly during the first year of college (Zajacova, Lynch, and Espenshade 2005; Vuong,Brown-Welty, and Tracz 2010). First-generation students aremore likely to encounter low faculty expectations, perceiveless institutional support, and have lower levels of academicself-efficacy (Darling and Scandlyn Smith 2007). They alsooften choose goals that undermine their academic ability andsuccess (DeWitz, Woolsey, and Walsh 2009). Theundermining of academic ability and prior success can some-times make continued success seem like an unattainable task,which hinders overall academic behavior and collegecompletion.Further research on self-efficacy suggests:
Academic self-efficacy has a positive relationship withstudent GPA and credits earned throughout the first year of college and is a predictor of increased intent to persistto graduation (Zajacova, Lynch, and Espenshade 2005).
Students with high self-efficacy report a stronger sense of life purpose, leading to greater levels of academicsuccess (DeWitz, Woolsey, and Walsh 2009).
Students with high levels of academic self-efficacyexperience less stress and are better equipped to copewith academic challenges (Zajacova, Lynch, and Espen-shade 2005).
Self-efficacy remains just as important to the academicsuccess of first-generation students in their second year as it does in their first year (Vuong, Brown-Welty, andTracz 2010), signaling the need to ensure positive self-efficacy throughout the entire college experience.
 
Implications for College Access Practitioners
:
BridgingResearch and Practice
The absence of social support structures and low self-efficacypresents a challenge to even the brightest of students in post-secondary education. For underrepresented students, thesefactors are even more important to college success. As therole of college access practitioners continues to evolve,research on social supports and self-efficacy suggest thatunderrepresented student groups would benefit from thefollowing interventions:
Building Social Supports
 
Assist students in establishing and sustaining faculty andstaff relationships, and encourage them to ask for and feelcomfortable receiving help.
Work with students and families to assess the nature of the family-child relationship in order to help students fur-ther develop or maintain supportive relationships withfamily once they leave home for college.
If students continue to live at home while enrolled incollege, work with families to help them understand theacademic rigor of the college environment and theacademic and social transition challenges students mayface. Helping students create social outlets thataccommodate travel to school activities, work schedules,and family responsibilities is also important.
Connect students to peer-mentored and peer-facilitated
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL SUPPORTS AND SELF-EFFICACY IN COLLEGE SUCCESS
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Spotlight on Spelman CollegeSpelman College—an all-female Historically BlackCollege in Atlanta, Ga.—has experienced degreeattainment success for Black women studyingscience, technology, engineering, and math by em-ploying comprehensive support structures.Spelman mitigates completion barriers by cultivat-ing a strong peer culture in academic spaces, in-creasing the effort of faculty to actively supportand encourage students, and expanding their communication of available undergraduateresearch opportunities (Perna et al. 2009).
 
Spotlight on Financial SupportThough the impact of financial support is beyondthe scope of this brief, it is important to recognizethe role that college access practitioners play inmaking sure underserved students and their families receive high-quality information regardingfinancial support such as loans and grants.Providing accurate information on college pricingis also critical. Accompanied by social supportsand increased self-efficacy, adequate financialsupport helps students meet high academicstandards throughout the educational pipeline.

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