Facilitating Academic Success Through the Will and the Ways
Holly Seirup, Ed.D., Associate Professor of Counseling and Mental Health Professions
Sage Rose, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Counseling and Mental Health Professions
The National Center for Educational Statistics (2012) reported that 21.6 million students enrolled in higher education institutions during the fall of 2012. Many of these students began their undergraduate education after completing a long and sometimes arduous search process, to find the college/university they considered to be the right “fit.” Yet according to the American College Testing (ACT) Service (2005), 26 percent of first-year students enrolled at a four-year college or university will leave without completing a degree. Despite this staggering statistic, and given the amount of time and money spent on the college search process by the student, and the recruitment/admissions procedure on the part of the institution, students and institutions begin each semester with high expectations of academic success.
It is anticipated that students will attend courses, maintain the required academic rigor, and graduate in a timely manner. However, at some point during their college careers, 25 percent of all students will be on academic probation (Cohen & Brawer, 2002). There is compelling evidence that supports an inverse relationship between a student’s first-year GPA and his or her likelihood of dropping out of college (Ishitani & DesJardins, 2002). Many colleges, concerned about student attrition, have focused academic support initiatives on improving grades, academic performance and probationary status in the hopes of facilitating persistence and retention among college student populations.
Yet recent studies suggest that academic success may be more than just grades and test scores; some suggest that achievement is dependent upon the hope of the student (Gallop, 2009a; Lopez, 2009; Worrell & Hale, 2001). Although colleges and universities prefer entrance criteria such as the SAT and ACT as predictors of college success, research reveals that “hope predicts GPA and retention in college, and hope scores are more robust predictors of college success than high school GPA, SAT, and ACT scores” (Lopez, 2009, p. 1). Based on this finding, hope level could play a role in college admission as a predictor of future success in college.
What is hope?
Hope is defined as a motivational belief system that affects goal-setting behaviors and perceptions about future success (Snyder et al., 1991). Individuals with high hope can clearly define goals, produce strategies to obtain those goals (pathways), and sustain the volitional thought needed to use multiple strategies (agency) when motivation toward goals subsides. Hope is an individual’s ability to set goals, energize him or herself to work on goals, and envision multiple paths (or strategies) to reach those goals. Research has shown that college students with high hope levels have higher GPAs and are more likely to graduate than those with low hope (Grasgreen, 2012). When faced with challenges or obstacles in reaching their goals, those with higher hope levels have contingency plans and are willing to reach out for support to implement an alternative path toward their goal.
Why should colleges and universities be interested in hope?
Higher education needs to take notice of the impact and importance of hope as it relates to a student’s academic success, retention and, ultimately, graduation.Higher education needs to take notice of the impact and importance of hope as it relates to a student’s academic success, retention and, ultimately, graduation. Individuals with high hope have been shown to perform well in educational contexts. Scores on hope measurement have been found to be predictive of academic achievement across all grade levels (Snyder, Shorey et al., 2002). Recent results based on the Gallup Student Poll (2009) found that of the American students polled, half would be considered hopeful. The other half of the students would be considered stuck (33 percent) or discouraged (17 percent). The hopeful students “possess numerous ideas and abundant energy for the future” while the stuck and discouraged students lack “the ideas and energy they need to navigate problems and reach goals” (Lopez, 2009, p.2). Those with lower hope may not be able to “see” alternative pathways and therefore become discouraged or stuck, unable to move toward their goal. This may be the situation with college students who find themselves on academic probation. Many students believe they possess acceptable academic support skills that they have used since high school. Unfortunately, they may find that those same skills that “worked” in high school are no longer relevant on the college campus, and yet they see no viable alternative. For example, Kuh (2007) found that 47 percent of students in high school report studying three hours or less per week, yet predominantly earn grades of A and B. Those students may believe that three hours of studying a week will produce the same results in college. Many find, by their first semester, that their past study strategies are no longer effective for them to reach their goals of academic success. A high hope student would make adjustments and alternative pathways to keep up with the load, while low hope students may miss this opportunity to alter their study pathways. Important to note, however, that one is not doomed to a life of low hope. According to hope theory, “hope is malleable” (Gallup, 2009), and a student’s hope level can be enhanced (Grasgreen, 2012).
Although a relatively new concept, there have been some developments of hope interventions in educational settings. Lopez, Bouwkamp, Edwards, and Pedrotti (2000) noted that educators can enhance hope levels by focusing on the personal statements students use to describe themselves. This may be as simple as reducing negative self-talk and reframing the conversation from “I knew I wouldn’t do well on this assignment” to “can we talk about what I need to do to do differently on the next one?”
Grasgreen (2012) noted that there have been some positive outcomes in a study of students who participated in a workshop intended to enhance hope levels. In the 90-minute seminar, students are asked to identify steps necessary to reach their goal, along with one potential obstacle and a potential alternative. Results of the study revealed that participants who attended the hope intervention workshop had higher levels of hope after attending than students who did not attend the program. Unfortunately, data were not available to identify the lasting impact of the intervention.
While hope interventions can encourage hopeful thinking in students, they also have a place in the overall school environment. Hope-based interventions are also considered cost-efficient and easy to use in educational institutions. Hope interventions are not limited to students, but teachers and administrators should also be able to display hopeful thinking in order to effectively teach students the best practices. Educators can maintain a belief system that multiple strategies to success are important, but we also must believe in these strategies in order for them to actually work.
Hopeful Intervention at Hofstra
The Academic Affairs Committee of the Hofstra University Senate proposed the development of a course to assist struggling undergraduate students (those on probation) in meeting their academic goals. Although the original intent may not have been to enhance student hope levels, we have found that providing students with academic success strategies, and information on University resources has offered students alternative pathways and agentic thoughts toward reaching their academic goals.
The UNIV 1: Academic Success course was developed to provide academic and non-academic support and reinforce the availability of campus resources for students placed on academic probation. The course is presented online in 10 modules. Students learn study skills and methods to balance personal issues, social lives, work roles, and course requirements in order to be academically successful. Since the focus of the course is on building skills to facilitate a sense of confidence in their educational performance, or academic agency, students are asked to volunteer to complete the Dispositional Hope Scale (DHS) at the beginning and end of the course.
Results indicated that students’ cumulative GPA increased upon completion of the UNIV 1: Academic Success course. The impact of hope scores on GPA was also investigated. Students were categorized as being of high, medium, or low hope by scores from the Dispositional Hope Scale. Once students were grouped, a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) on beginning semester GPAs by student hope level was performed. Students did not differ significantly in GPA by the level of hope they possessed at the beginning of the semester, F(2, 230) = .49, p > .05 (see Table 1 for mean GPAs). To investigate the effect of hope level on end of semester GPA, a one-way analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was performed with the students’ end of semester GPA entered as the dependent variable, the level of hope as the independent variable, and students’ prior GPA as the covariate. After adjusting for prior GPA levels, there was a significant effect of hope level on end of semester GPA, F(2, 229) = 5.86, p < .05, partial ² =.05, with high hope students obtaining significantly higher end of semester GPAs than low and medium hope students (see Table 1). Figure 1 shows the positive trend for post-UNIV 01 GPA by hope level.
Students who completed the UNIV 1: Academic Success course showed a statistically significant increase from beginning semester GPA to end of semester GPA. Hope theory would suggest that this is because students were provided with strategies and tools that supported agency beliefs as well as clear pathways to increase their performance. The course was designed specifically to teach positive academic skills and behaviors and help students set reasonable academic goals that could be managed over time, thus encouraging an active orientation toward positive academic behaviors. Training in specific skills like time management and study behaviors, and building adequate support systems is a way to maximize hopeful beliefs about students’ academic futures. As it is anticipated that this facilitation of positive belief systems will positively impact GPA and the probability of these students being retained and graduating, additional hopeful interventions both in and out of the classroom are recommended. Higher education can support students’ academic success by continuing to develop initiatives that enhance students’ hope levels by:
- Supporting them in defining their goals.
- Assisting in the development of multiple strategies to achieve their goals.
- Assisting in the development of internal and external networks of support when challenges/obstacles occur.
- American College Testing Service. (2005). ACT college readiness benchmarks, retention, and first year college GPA: What’s the connection? Iowa: ACT Inc.
- Cohen, A., & Brawer, F. (2002). The American community college, 4th ed., San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Grasgreen, A. (2012, July 6). Researchers apply hope theory to boost college student success. Inside Higher Ed.
- Ishitani, T.T., & DesJardins, S.L. (2002). A longitudinal investigation of dropout from college in the United States. Journal of College Student Retention, 4(2), 173-201.
- Kuh, G.D. (2007). What student engagement data tell us about college readiness. Peer Review – American Association of College & Universities, 9(1), 4-8.
- Lopez, S. (2009). Hope, academic success, and the Gallup Student Poll. Gallup Inc.
- Lopez, S.J., Bouwkamp, J., Edwards, L.E., & Teramoto Pedrotti, J. (2000). Making hope happen via brief interventions. Presented at the 2nd Positive Psychology Summit in Washington, DC.
- National Center for Educational Statistics. (2009). Fast facts. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
- Snyder, C.R., Harris, C., Anderson, J.R., Holleran, S.A., Irving, L.M., Sigmon, S.T., Oshinoubu, L., Gibb, J., Langelle, C., & Harney, P. (1991). The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 570-585.