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Running Head: BAXTER MAGOLDAS THEORY OF SELF-AUTHORSHIP

Marcia B. Baxter Magoldas Theory of Self-Authorship in College Development


Melissa Corts
Teachers College, Columbia University
College Student Development Theories
Dr. Monica Christensen

BAXTER MAGOLDAS THEORY OF SELF-AUTHORSHIP

Marcia B. Baxter Magolda developed her theory of self-authorship by conducting a 22year longitudinal study of 101 students at Miami University. Her study of these students learning
and development showed how over time students undergo a series transformative experiences
that cause them to go through a shift from accepting the information given from an external
authority to developing a critical eye and internal authority (Baxter Magolda, 2001, 2009). This
internal authority that one develops, which allows individuals to generate their own values,
beliefs and relationships, is what Baxter Magolda identifies as self-authorship (Baxter Magolda,
2001, 2009). From her study, she was able to identify four major phases that individuals go
through in order to reach self-authorship. The phase that the individual are in throughout this
journey determines the kind of learning that is possible at that point in their development
process. The four phases of development are following formulas, crossroads, becoming the
author of ones life, and internal foundations (Baxter Magolda, 2001).
Baxter Magolda notes that most students will enter college in the phase of following
external formulas. Here, students look to the authority for information and accept the beliefs and
values that are delivered to them as facts. Essentially, students at this point are quite proficient in
memorization but they would not be able to actually evaluate or apply this information (Baxter
Magolda, 2001, 2009). College provided an environment where students could think for
themselves, allowing them to begin their shift into the crossroads phasewhich was the
realization that the external authorities could not solve all their issues and they would need to
rely on their internal voices (Baxter Magolda, 2001, 2009). Those who were successfully able to
work through this conflict entered into the phase of becoming the author of ones life. Here,
students realize that they need to develop the capacity to think for themselves and create an
internal sense of self if they hope to succeed in their relationships with others. As these scattered

BAXTER MAGOLDAS THEORY OF SELF-AUTHORSHIP

values and beliefs coming from the inner voice become a concrete belief system, the individual
begins to move into the last phase of the journey: internal foundation. Internal foundation is the
point at which an individual has a developed sense of self that is grounded in his or her own
belief system (Baxter Magolda, 2001).
After a student journeys through these different phases, they are now able to critically
analyze the information that they receive externally. By trusting their internal foundation, these
individuals are capable of entering into a dialogue with others and debate the issues respectfully,
make better decisions, and perpetuate the process of learning (Baxter Magolda, 2009).
Baxter Magoldas (2001) main concern through the development process was three-fold:
(a) How do I know? (b) Who am I? and (c) What relationships do I want?. Together these
questions formed the multiple dimensions of self-authorship, which was introduced by Robert
Kegan (1994) in a theory of the interconnectivity between cognitive, intrapersonal, and
interpersonal development. Baxter Magolda (2001) explained that this journey is an act of
holistic development. The interactions between the individual, the environment, and the larger
social issues demonstrate that identity is socially constructed. This understanding of identity
places the self as central to the construction of knowledge that involves multiple dimensions.
Baxter Magolda argued that it is the obligation of higher education to aid this process so that
college graduates are prepared for the events to come throughout their life (Baxter Magolda,
2001, 2009).
Baxter Magoldas theory of self-authorship acted as a catalyst for other researchers to
engage in this conversation about self-authorship and how the concept could be applied. Many
people discussed the implications of Baxter Magoldas research; even Baxter Magolda herself
revised and published multiple works based off of the original theory. The remaining portion of

BAXTER MAGOLDAS THEORY OF SELF-AUTHORSHIP

this paper will take a look into the use of Baxter Magoldas concept of self-authorship
throughout some of the research that stemmed off of the theory since its introduction into the
field of college development.
An addition to the original theory came later when Baxter Magolda (2004), along with
Patricia M. King, published literature that introduced the concept of learning partnerships and
how they promote self-authorship. The Learning Partnership Model is broken down into two
categories, the learning partners who support the participants and the learning partners that
challenged them. It is the responsibility of the individuals to take both the support and the
challenges and use the information in order to construct their internal voices. The three ways in
which learning partners could support the individuals were by respecting their thoughts and
feeling in order to affirm the value in their voices, helping them to realize that their experiences
can be viewed as opportunities for learning, and by helping them to analyze their problems
(Baxter Magolda & King, 2004). On the other hand, the three ways that the learning partners
challenge the individuals were by forcing the individuals to recognize the complexities of their
life and work so that they do not rush to simple conclusion, having the individuals develop their
personal authority by listening to their own voices about how to live their lives, and encouraging
the individual to share their thoughts and work with other to solve mutual problems (Baxter
Magolda & King, 2004).
Before the Learning Partnership Model was even defined, researchers were taking the
theory of self-authorship and applying it to other areas in higher education across differing
academic disciplines, types of students and even career aspirations.
For example, Pizzolato (2003) investigated how this development model applied to highrisk students. Through interviews with 35 high-risk college students, a majority of which were

BAXTER MAGOLDAS THEORY OF SELF-AUTHORSHIP

students of color, the author examined two questions: (a) To what degree do high-risk college
students possess self-authoring ways of knowing? And (b) What types of experiences are
associated with development of self-authoring ways of knowing? Findings from this study
suggested that high-risk college students often develop self-authoring ways of knowing prior to
enrollment in college, which was contrary to Baxter Magoldas idea that individuals did not
actually achieve this until well after college. Pizzolato explained that if the students possess low
levels of privilege, they begin to use self-authoring ways of knowing in order to process the
provocative interpersonal experiences associated with their lifestyle (2003). Pizzolato (2003)
defined self-authorship as a relatively enduring way of understanding and orientating oneself to
provocative situations in a way that (a) recognizes the contextual nature of knowledge and (b)
balances this understanding with the development of ones own internally defined goals and
sense of self (p. 798). She related self-authorship to a coping mechanism that promotes good
choices, by incorporating an epistemological orientation rather than a developmental model, and
has suggested that self-authorship might appear differently at various stages of life (Pizzolato,
2003).
Torres and Baxter Magolda (2004) continued this conversation about how self-suthorship
might present itself differently within minority groups by interviewing a group of Latino/a
students. They found linkages between ethnic identity and cognitive development in this
longitudinal study of 29 Latino college students from a variety of college environments, ethnic
identity (the intrapersonal dimension) is intricately interwoven with cognitive and interpersonal
dimensions of development (p. 343). Focusing on the effects of cognitive differences, Torres
and Baxter Magolda found that movement in the cognitive dimension prompted reconstruction of
negative images with the interpersonal and intrapersonal dimensions (2004). Their findings

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indicated that when students reconstruct social knowledge their ethnic identity is positively
influenced. The strategies that are produced for positively influencing identity development are
discussed within a holistic development framework (Torres & Baxter Magolda, 2004).
Then research began to shift to look into how self-authorship impacted career aspirations
in students. Creamer and Laughlin (2005) explained that career literature provided little insight
into how women interpret career-relevant experiences, advice, or information, particularly when
it is contradictory to their own. This study (2005) used findings from interviews with 40 college
women to provide insight into the link between self-authorship and career decision-making.
Findings underscore the role of interconnectivity in womens decision making, particularly
involving parents, and distinguish ways that this can reflect self-authorship. Creamer and
Laughlin explained that self-authorship provides the theoretical framework to understand how
students respond to career advice and suggests that students may reject career advices when it
requires the cognitive complexity to engage diverse viewpoints. The findings from this study
suggest that it is in the best interest of these student to provide educational activities that require
students to employ competing knowledge claims to make complex decisions so that women are
better prepared for this struggle (Creamer and Laughlin, 2005).
At this point we return to the study of Latino/a students with Torres and Hernandez
(2007) where the Latino/a holistic development model. In this longitudinal study of Latino/a
college students, the authors consider the influence of Latino/a college students experiences and
ethnic identity on holistic development. They conclude that although similar characteristics are
seen among Latino/a students, the role of recognizing and making meaning of racism is a
significant developmental task. This is consistent with other ethnic and racial identity theories,
up until this point, yet this model considers all three dimensions of holistic development:

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cognitive, identity (intrapersonal), and interpersonal (Torres and Hernandez, 2007). The results
of this study indicate that Latino/a college student display many of the same characteristics
described in Baxter Magoldas (2001) study. In addition to having the same developmental
characteristics as the majority of White students in Baxter Magoldas study, the Latino/a students
in this study had additional developmental tasks that are not included in the study of all White
students. The study resulted in the Latino/a holistic development model. Although there were
many parallels in the development of these Latino/a students compared to the students from
Baxter Magoldas (2001) study, there emerged additional developmental tasks specific to this
population. One was how identifying and dealing with racism (through the cognitive dimension)
was a critical moment in their development to be able to transition from following external
formulas to crossroads. This task consisted of understanding and managing racism and
stereotypes that influence their self image-image (intrapersonal dimension), and their choices of
who they seek out for support and relationships (interpersonal dimension) when dealing with its
effect (Torres & Hernandez, p.22, 2007). The identification of racism prompted their ability to
distinguish and choose between positive and negative aspects of Latino culture and the
development of social knowledge about how power and oppression affect their life experiences.
These informed Latinos were able to integrate their cultural choices into their relationships and
the way they went about their lives.
Again, there was a shift in the conversation as womens career aspirations became
important once again. In this study, Meszaros, Creamer, and Lee (2009) discuss womens
representation in the information technology (IT) field. They explain that their involvment had
declined to an all time low of 18.5% in the previous 8 years. In order to support women to
become interested in, enter, and remain in the IT workforce, the study used the theory of self-

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authorship and path analysis to investigate the role of parental support in influencing IT career
choice and interest for a sample of high school and college women. The authors developed a
Career Decision-Making Survey designed to measure levels of parental support and a number
of factors related to how students consider information in the process of making a career choice.
Results from the survey indicated that interactions with others, such as counselors and teachers,
about career options did not have a significant effect on career interest that as compared to the
direction provided by parents (Meszaros, Creamer, & Lee, 2009). Women were significantly
more likely than men to seek input about careers, but encountered developmental dissonance
when that advice conflicted with advice provided by others authority figures in their life. From
this study, the authors revealed that there is a need for more parental education in understanding
the role of self-authorship in order to better provide career decision-making support to young
women (Meszaros et al., 2009).
Again, we see a shift in literature as the conversation continues on how self-authorship
impacts minority ethnic groups. Hernandez (2012) examines how Mexican American women
made meaning of their undergraduate activism and its potential implications on their
development toward self-authorship. The developing political consciousness model emerged
form their interviews to demonstrate the process of developing increasingly complex social
knowledge, the shift of motivation to engage in activism from being a peer expectation to an
internalized life calling, and an increasingly complex understanding of political tactics and
ability to collaborate with members and other organizations for the goal of achieving political
change (Hernandez, 2012). The study focused on the research question: How did Mexican
American college womens student activism at Indiana University (IU) during the 1990s
influence their development as viewed through the self-authorship theoretical framework? The

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interviews of the women in the study revealed how they became involved in activism as
undergraduates at IU, how they made meaning of their experiences, and how these activities
influenced who they became as women in their mid-30s. The findings revealed a new model,
developing political consciousness, based on self-authorship theory, which illustrated how ones
level of development may affect the meaning and motivation to engage in activism and vice
versa (Hernandez, 2012).
One of the most recent studies that came out of this theory was Terrell Strayhorns (2014)
quantitative investigation into the relationship between academic achievement in college, as
defined by first-year grade point average (GPA), and self-authorship among African American
first-year students at Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), using hierarchical
linear regression techniques. His study had one research question that guided the study: What is
the relationship between measures of self-authorship and the academic achievement of African
American collegians at HBCUs, controlling for potentially confounding differences? (Strayhorn,
2014). His findings revealed that self-authorship would predict first-year GPA better than the
background characteristics and traditional measures of academic preparations for college (such
as high school GPA or SAT/ACT scores) (Strayhorn, 2014). Strayhorn (2014) noted that since the
idea of self-authorship is a relatively new research concept, there is a limited scope of thinking
connected with the idea. Most of the studies, up until this point, used a qualitative method such
as in-depth interviewing of relatively small samples and specific subpopulations at
predominantly white institutions. No quantitative studies had been conducted in order to measure
the influence of self-authorship on the academic achievement of African Americans at HBCUs.
This study became significant because it provided reliable data for a quantitative measure of selfauthorship, which could be used in future research (Strayhorn, 2014). By controlling for

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differences in age, living arrangements, prior achievements, time spent studying, academic selfconcept, and first-generation students, the results were able to suggest that there is a significant
statistical relationship between self-authorship and academic achievement in college for firstyear African American students at HBCUs. Using a hierarchical linear regression model,
Strayhorn was able to identify a regression coefficient of 0.76, which indicated that 58% of the
variance in GPAs could be explained by the variable in the model (Strayhorn, 2014). In other
words, there was a significant influence on the first-year GPAs of African American students at
HBCUs coming from their level of self-authorship. According to this study, African American
first-year students at HBCUs who had a tendency to score low on capacity for autonomous
action earned a higher GPA on average. Meaning that African American students who depended
on advice from others to make decisions earned higher grades during the first year of college.
Strayhorn found that this was counterintuitive to the argument for self-authorship but served as a
call for institutions of higher education to create environments that did not just reward students
for following the rules, but also encouraged them to experiment with new ways of thinking
without fear of being penalized (Strayhorn, 2014).
But it was not always praise for Baxter Magoldas theory of self-authorship; in their
works researchers also critiqued the original theory. For example, Pizzolato (2003) mentions that
Baxter Magoldas sample only included students from a single, selective, public, Midwestern
school; and, by the time self-authorship emerged (2001), just 39 students remained in the sample,
and all were white. Strayhorn (2014) also notes that Baxter Magoldas research, and most of
those who have done research based on this topic, was grounded in a qualitative method; and that
there is a large amount of measurable data that had not been introduced into the conversation.

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Many studies have been produced as a result of Baxter Magoldas research, most within
the realm of how this idea of self-authorship affects those within the field of higher education,
mainly the students. The theory is relatively new but, from the breath of research that has
developed in response to the idea, it is clear that the topic is both relevant and real within the
college development process. Understanding this journey of growth that students go through is
absolutely necessary for professionals in higher education to succeed with their mission of
creating educated and informed citizens. It can, and has, been applied to multiple disciplines,
ethnic groups and institutions. However, the major gap in research associated with this topic is to
what extents have these self-authored individuals become ethical and constructive citizens. In
other words, what is the value of this self-authorship? Is there, or should there be, a level of
judgment placed on how good or bad this person has developed? All research points to how this
development process impacts the individuals, but there has yet to be a conversation about
whether these persons are capable to impacting society in return, and how. Yes, they have
achieved the goal of self-authorship, but what type of book are they writing, so to speak. While it
has proven to be a useful framework for understanding student growth within higher education,
educators need to also carefully evaluate the product of this development and how they can
positively influence it.

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References

Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2001). Making their own way: Narratives for transforming higher
education to promote self-development. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2009). Promoting self-authorship to promote liberal education. Journal
of College and Character, 10(3), pp. 1-5.
Creamer, E. G. & Laughlin, A. (2005). Self-authorship and womens career decision making.
Journal of College Student Development, 46(1), pp, 13-27.
Hernandez, E. (2012). The journey toward developing political consciousness through activism
for Mexican American women. Journal of College Student Development, 53(5), pp, 680702.
Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: the mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Meszaros, P. S., Creamer, E. & Lee S. (2009). Understanding the role of parental support for IT
career decision making using the theory of self-authorship. International Journal of
Consumer Studies, 33(4), pp. 392-395.
Pizzolato, J. E. (2003). Developing self-authorship: Exploring the experiences of high-risk
college students. Journal of College Student Development, 44(6), pp, 797-812.
Strayhorn, T. L. (2014). Making a way to success: Self-authorship and academic achievement of
first-year African American students at historically Black colleges. Journal of College
Student Development, 55(2), pp, 151-167.
Torres, V., Baxter Magolda, M.B. (2004). Reconstructing Latino identity: The influence of

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cognitive development on the ethnic identity process of Latino students. Journal of


College Student Development, 45(3), pp, 333-347.
Torres, V., & Hernandez, E. (2007). The Influence of Ethnic Identity on self-authorship: A
longitudinal study of Latino/a college students. Journal of College Student Development,
48(5), pp, 558-573.