Noncognitive predictors of academic success and persistence for Hispanic American/first year college students at selected community colleges in West Texas
Carter, L. Randy
Hispanic American students represent 9.5% of the total student population in higher education. This is the third lowest rate of participation for any of the underrepresented groups. Hispanic Americans face several unique barriers to academic attainment as compared to other groups on predominantly White college campuses. Aside from gaining access to higher education, the greatest challenges for Hispanic students include a lack of family support; low socioeconomic status; cultural disconnect with the educational system; a lack of academic preparation; and a lack of Hispanic peers/role models on campus. Despite these barriers, Hispanic students can and do succeed. Although a growing body of research on college persistence for the underrepresented groups (Hispanic American, African American, and Native American) does exist, more research is needed to determine the variables which promote academic success and retention for the students in these cohorts. Noncognitive variables have been shown to be valid predictors of success for some minority student groups, low-income, first-generation, adult students, and students who are specially admitted (Ting & Sedlacek, 2000). Rendon (1995) maintains that college persistence for minority students depends on two critical phases—making the transition to college and making connections while in college. For them it means changing identity, being perceived as different, leaving friends and families, and living in two culturally different worlds. Barriers to minority student persistence involve both student and institutional factors. Student barriers include a lack of economic resources, poor academic preparation, tentative or unclear academic goals, low self-efficacy, and a minimal understanding of the higher education system. Institutional barriers to minority student persistence include a failure by many institutions to welcome and accommodate students from diverse backgrounds; a lack of minority faculty and staff; Anglo-centered college curriculums at many institutions; an emphasis on competitive rather than cooperative learning methods; a lack of quality faculty-student relationships; the expectation that minority students will conform or fit a mold; and the institutional climate may be perceived as racist or indifferent to minority students (Rendon, 1995). The purpose of this study was to determine whether a relationship exists between a set of 12 noncognitive variables and the cumulative grade point average (GPA) and persistence rates of Hispanic American/first-year college students at two community colleges in West Texas. Seven of the factors are based on Sedlacek’s model of eight noncognitive variables (e.g., Tracey and Sedlacek, 1984 and Sedlacek, 2004). The other five variables relate to students’ perceptions of the campus racial climate. Rendon (1996) and Hurtado (1994), among others, highlight the importance of the campus racial climate for the educational attainment of Hispanic students. These five come from a set of eleven variables which relate to students’ perceptions of the campus racial climate from Sedlacek, Helm, and Prieto (1997) and Helm, Sedlacek, and Prieto (1998). The instrument for this study was composed of two parts, the Noncognitive Questionnaire (NCQ) and a Campus Climate Survey (CCS). The study focused on freshman to sophomore (year-to-year) persistence and first-year cumulative GPA. The sample for this study (N = 115) was comprised of first-year freshman level Hispanic college students enrolled at two public community colleges in West Texas. Results from the multiple regression analysis for all cases indicated that one of the independent variables, successful leadership experience, was significantly related to the students’ cumulative GPA. The same variable, successful leadership experience, was also shown to be significantly related to students’ cumulative GPA for the female respondents (N = 70). None of the 12 independent variables were found to be significantly related to the Hispanic males’ cumulative GPA. Results of the discriminant analysis showed that none of the 12 independent variables were significantly related to student year-to-year persistence, for the group as a whole or after the cases were split into male and female groups.