Assessing the Relationship between Campus Programs, Student Self-Efficacy, Stress, and Substance Abuse

Article excerpt

Student life educators continue searching for ways to assess campus programs. This is an exploratory study for an alternative assessment approach based on a hypothesized relationship between participation in campus activities, student self-efficacy, and student dispositions toward aspects of mental health and substance abuse. Focusing on the psyche of our students is desirable, especially in light of litigation holding colleges liable for student suicide, and may prove useful as an outcomes measure for assessment and evaluation in the future. Bandura's concept of self-efficacy is used as a conceptual framework for the survey. The authors surveyed nearly 10% of underclassmen at a public research university. Despite having the hypothesis contradicted in several analyses, results have implications for campus health policy and student life programming.

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In response to the push toward more accountability in higher education, student affairs professionals are being asked to assess the value of their programs, particularly focusing on student learning as an outcome measure (AAHE, ACPA, & NASPA, 1998; Banta & Associates, 2002; Hamrick, Evans, & Schuh, 2002). However, unlike academic programs where the assessment of student learning is largely content and competency driven, those tasked with assessing student life programs mostly rely on the somewhat elusive and proximal measures of leadership development, citizenship, and engagement (Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, & Whitt, 2005; Schuh & Upcraft, 2001). VanDerLinden (2006) cautioned that, "valid instruments to measure leadership development are limited, and most colleges and universities lack a comprehensive method to assess leadership learning and development" (p. 28). While these types of measures, focused on student learning, should not be supplanted in student affairs assessment, clearly there is room for other approaches. How does this idea of assessing programs square within the student affairs profession?

Many student affairs professionals enter the vocation because they enjoy student contact and the opportunity to make a difference (Mitchell, 1999, 2001). Therefore, it is not surprising that some might resist some of the highly quantitative, sometimes painstaking methods used to gather data and assess learning outcomes, simply for the sake of justifying program existence (Blimling & Whitt, 1999). For example, an exasperated residential life coordinator might ask, "How can I possibly measure the learning value of our Sunday evening hall leadership pizza meetings?" While this example is mostly facetious, it is illustrative how challenging assessment and evaluation of campus programs can be.

This study takes a different approach. Rather than focusing on the traditional outcomes measures used in student affairs, such as leadership or citizenship, this research seeks to explore a relationship between student life programs, self-efficacy, and dispositions toward aspects of student mental health, such as stress and substance abuse. An increasing number of college students today are facing psychological challenges, and student affairs professionals are called to address the mental health needs of their constituency (Arehart-Treichel, 2002). The hypothesis investigated here is that students who participate in co-curricular activities feel more in control of their life, and this fact translates into higher scores for self-efficacy, favorable attitudes toward stress, alcohol consumption, and drug abuse. These ideas stem from the work of Albert Bandura (1995, 1997).

A construct within Bandura's theory of social cognition, focusing on self-efficacy, has at its core a principle about people and control. Bandura (1997) defines self-efficacy as a confidence in one's ability to organize and execute a course of action required to attain a goal. If individuals feel their life is out of their own control, they are more likely to be at risk of increased anxiety, feelings of depression, and engage in substance abuse (Bandura, 1995). …