Academic journal article Communication Studies

The Ecology of Academic Risk: Relationships between Communication Apprehension, Verbal Aggression, Supportive Communication, and Students' Academic Risk Status

Academic journal article Communication Studies

The Ecology of Academic Risk: Relationships between Communication Apprehension, Verbal Aggression, Supportive Communication, and Students' Academic Risk Status

Article excerpt

Because nearly 50% of those who attend college fail to earn a bachelor degree (Seidman, 2000), college student retention and academic success programs have received renewed interest throughout the Academy (see Lau, 2003). Academically at-risk students are, for a variety of interrelated reasons, in danger of academic failure and/or exclusion from school (see Garard & Hunt, 1998; Hunt & Lippert, 1999; Johnson, 1994). To help at-risk students, Center for Basic Skills (CBS) programs provide academic and personal support so that students can better succeed while in college--thereby improving retention. Scholars in the communication discipline have consistently advocated for the relevance of communication skills training in well-designed Basic Skills programs. For instance, research shows that students who are academically at-risk have higher levels of communication apprehension in certain contexts (Cheseboro et al., 1992) and that students who are high in communication apprehension are at a distinct academic disadvantage in typical classrooms (Rosenfeld, Grant, & McCroskey, 1995). Reasoning that improved communication skills would improve academic success, other communication scholars have called for renewed efforts to explore various connections between communication phenomena and academic risk (Garard & Hunt, 1998; Hunt & Lippert, 1999).

Despite continued interest in the communication needs of students who are at-risk, communication researchers have not synthesized current theory into a broad model explaining how communication phenomena influence students such that they are more or less at-risk. The present study used survey methods to explore how multiple layers of communication--the individual layer, the social layer, and the cultural layer-place some students at a disadvantage in academic settings. Rather than pointing to one single cause, this approach assumes that there are numerous causes for at-risk behaviors, each resulting from socially or individually enacted communication phenomena.

Rationale for our project rests on both theoretical and practical grounds. Current models of academic risk are fragmented such that no single model provides an adequate explanation of the multifaceted nature of this phenomenon. Specifically, the epidemiological (locates the cause of risk within the province of the student), social constructivist (examines the interaction of the student within the learning environment), and ecological (broadens the contexts of student-environment interaction) perspectives fail to account for important communication variables associated with academic risk (see Johnson, 1994 for a complete review of these models). This study works toward a more comprehensive explanation of communication and academic risk by exploring interrelationships between several variables. Additionally, a discipline-specific perspective of academic risk--one grounded in communication phenomena--would allow the communication field to more effectively contribute to the cross-disciplinary discussion of academic risk.

In addition, our project has a fundamental goal of identifying potential avenues for academic risk intervention. Many universities have programs designed to assist students at-risk of academic failure. The students who are enrolled in these programs, which we generally refer to as Centers for Basic Skills, are often racial and cultural minorities from urban areas (Quinnan, 1997)--students who would be excluded from higher education if they did not have access to services offered by CBS programs. Importantly, the rationale for these programs often rests on the premise that institutions of higher education should play a premiere role in assisting society in advancing issues such as race relations, social justice, and economic parity by ensuring that at-risk students have access to a quality education (see Quinnan, 1997). CBS programs could benefit from information specifying the communication needs of students at-risk of academic failure. …

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