Ethnocultural Person-Environment Fit and College Adjustment: Some Implications for College Counselors

Article excerpt

The authors investigated the relationship between students' ethnocultural person-environment (P-E) fit and college adjustment. They hypothesized differences between P-E fit of ethnocultural minority versus majority students at a predominantly White university but did not expect differences in adjustment. Furthermore, they explored the effects of ethnicity and sex on P-E fit and adjustment. Findings generally supported the hypotheses. The authors provide recommendations to increase college counselors' effectiveness in working with diverse clients.


It is estimated that by the year 2020, the majority of people in the United States will belong to ethnocultural groups other than White, European American (Sue & Sue, 1999). Currently in the United States, 45% of all students enrolled in public schools belong to socioracial minority groups (Sue & Sue, 2003), a figure that has increased from 28% in 1982 and from 33% in 1992 (Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 2007). Thus, not only is the number of ethnocultural minority students pursuing a college education currently increasing, but it is predicted that this trend will continue ha years to come. As a result, college counselors must continue refining their awareness, knowledge, and skills (Sue & Sue, 2003) to more competently work with a diverse student population.

In addition to understanding students' concerns from a universal perspective, multiculturally competent counselors must also be able to identify external (i.e., environmental) factors that are likely to have a negative impact on ethnocultural minority individuals. This study attempted to investigate the influence these factors may have on the college adjustment of ethnocultural minority, students.

College Adjustment

College adjustment is a multifaceted psychosocial process that imposes stressors on students and requires an array of coping skills. All students are expected to experience adjustment demands in the following areas: (a) academic, (b) social, (c) personal-emotional, and (d) attachment to the institution (Baker & Siryk, 1989).

Along with experiencing the various adjustment demands, which tend to confront all college matriculants, cultural minority students also appear to face unique difficulties that majority students do not face. Perhaps most notably, because on most college campuses the majority of students tend to be White, European Americans, those who belong to an ethnocultural minority group often face unique social adjustment challenges (Kenny & Stryker, 1996). Such challenges include perception of a racially hostile climate (Hurtado & Carter, 1997; Schwitzer, Griffin, Ancis, & Thomas, 1999), a feeling of social isolation (Schwitzer et al., 1999; Smedley, Myers, & Harrell, 1993), and a general sense of incongruence with the university environment (Chavous, 2000).

Although the hurdles faced by ethnocultural minority students have been well described in the literature, students' responses to these hurdles appear to be less well understood. It is interesting that the literature remains unclear as to whether the additional hurdles necessarily lead to poorer adjustment. For instance, on one hand, Tomlinson-Clarke (1998) found no significant differences between White and Black female college students' perceptions of academic adjustment, social adjustment, and institutional attachment, that is, three of the four adjustment domains as measured by the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ; Baker & Siryk, 1989). In the fourth domain, personal-emotional adjustment, she found that minority students actually experienced higher levels of adjustment than nonminority students did (Tomlinson-Clarke, 1998).

Additionally, African American female students, attending a predominantly White university, indicated higher levels of "psychological and physical wellbeing and less general psychological distress" (Tomlinson-Clarke, 1998, p. …