Simply believing in success among 3 traits that help college students graduate, study finds

HOUSTON — When it comes to college completion rates, the United States doesn’t shine as brightly as other countries. And while a person’s educational outcome often relies heavily on his or her socioeconomic upbringing, there are still certain variables that can help one succeed in college, a new report finds.

Researchers at Rice University in Texas reviewed 49 previous academic articles, through which 61 experimental studies were examined. Across the studies examined, three specific competencies emerged as promoting better success in college, which researchers measured by good grades, staying in school, and ultimately, graduating.

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A sense of belonging was identified as the first factor that helped foster college success. Particularly important for underrepresented groups, having a feeling of comfort was found to positively impact student GPA in 85 percent of the studies examined.

The second factor was having a growth mindset (i.e., the attitude that one’s level of intelligence is malleable for the better through education). Seventy-five percent of studies examined showed this mentality to be beneficial academically.

Lastly, possessing the belief that one’s academic studies will lead to a desired end goal was correlated with a positive impact on grades within 83 percent of the studies examined.

Fortunately, the researchers found that these competencies — and their benefits — could be cultivated in students through the implementation of different intervention exercises, such as writing tasks.

The effects of a given intervention had the potential to last for multiple semesters. Interventions were found to be most effective for at-risk students.

Collectively, the researchers deemed the three competencies to fall along various interpersonal and intrapersonal dimensions.

Nevertheless, the researchers argue that ways of measuring and tracking inter- and intrapersonal competencies should be made more objective by educators, much like standardized tests (e.g., the SAT).

“Many current assessments of these competencies fall short in providing solid statistical evidence supporting their reliability and validity,” says Fred Oswald, who co-authored the report, in a university press release. “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.”

Overall, the researchers call for further inquiry into the empirical tracking of these competencies, ideally with the help of universities.

The report, “Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Competencies,” was funded by the National Science Foundation and sponsored by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.


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