The Relationship between Locus of Control and Personal-Emotional Adjustment and Social Adjustment to College Life in Students with and without Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

This study investigated the relationship between locus of control and social and personal-emotional adjustment to college life in students with and without learning disabilities (LD). Differences in locus of control in college students with and without LD were also examined. The Adult Nowicki-Strickland Internal/External Locus of Control Scale (Nowicki & Duke, 1974) was used to measure locus of control; two subscales from the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (Baker & Siryk, 1989) measured the social adjustment and personal-emotional adjustment to college. Thirty-one undergraduate college students with LD and 30 students without LD participated. Results showed a significant relationship between locus of control and both social adjustment and personal-emotional adjustment for both groups. Students with external locus of control tended to have higher adjustment scores than others. No differences were found in the locus of control orientation between students with and without LD, and in the personal-emotional adjustment to college life. Students with LD scored higher in social adjustment than their peers without LD.


During the past 25 years, increasing numbers of students with learning disabilities have enrolled in colleges and universities (Astin, 2003; Hartman & Krulwich, 1984; Milne, 1989; Satcher, 1992; Shea, 1994; Wilczenski & Gillepie-Silver, 1992; Stage & Milne, 1996). The American Council on Education (2001) and the National Center for Education Statistics (2002) reported that in 2000, 9 % of college students had a disability, with learning disabilities being one of the most reported disabilities. Although the percentage of students with learning disabilities who complete high school and pursue postsecondary education has increased, many of these students experience difficulty remaining in and completing postsecondary programs (Blackorby & Wagner, 1997). Murray, Goldstein, Nourse, and Edgar (2000) found that 80% of students with learning disabilities who had attended postsecondary education institutions, had not graduated five years after high school, compared to 56% of youth without disabilities. Furthermore, ten years after graduating from high school, 56% of youth with learning disabilities had not graduated from postsecondary education, compared to 32% of individuals without disabilities.

The transition to college is marked by complex challenges in academic, personal-emotional (PEA) and social adjustment (SA) (Chickering, 1969; Chickering & Reisser, 1993), particularly for students with disabilities. Some students find ways to make this transition constructively and adapt to college, whereas others feel overwhelmed and unable to effectively meet the demands of their new roles (Gerdes & Mallinckrodt, 1994). Although early studies focused on academic ability as a predictor of college adjustment (Baker, McNeil, & Siryk, 1985; Pantages & Creedon, 1978; Terenzini, Lorang, & Wright, 1981), a growing body of research suggests that a second dimension, psychological functioning, may be as important as academic factors in predicting psychosocial adjustment to college (Mallinckrodt, 1988; Mallinckrodt & Leong, 1992; Pancer, Hunsberger, Pratt, & Alisat, 2000; Rice, 1992: Wintre & Yaffe, 2000).

One psychological construct that may be useful in accounting for individual differences in the ability to adjust to university life is locus of control. Locus of control is a personality construct based on Rotter's (1954) social learning theory and refers to a person's attributional tendency regarding the cause or control of events (Spector, 1982), and to the generalized expectancy that reinforcements are under personal control (Phares, 1976). People who are prototypical externals do not perceive a reliable contingency between their behaviors and their outcomes (Rotter, 1966). …