Academic journal article College Student Journal

In Their Own Words: An Online Strategy for Increasing Stress-Coping Skills among College Freshmen

Academic journal article College Student Journal

In Their Own Words: An Online Strategy for Increasing Stress-Coping Skills among College Freshmen

Article excerpt

Student retention has become a common problem in higher education. This study involved the design and evaluation of a prototype Website that allowed university students to listen to challenges and stressors faced by college freshman and solutions they used to overcome those challenges as told by other college students. The purpose of this "In Their Own Words" approach was to reduce freshman attrition by having peers give new or prospective students a "realistic job preview" of the academic and social stressors typically encounter in college and strategies for dealing with them. Survey results are presented along with a discussion of the potential implications for increasing retention by reducing stress and anticipatory stress among students entering college for the first time.

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With the exception of the more selective colleges and universities, the problem of student retention has become a major issue in American higher education. Nationally, the baccalaureate graduation rate is only 57% (Horn, 2006), a situation that leads to a reduced skill set for the American workforce, especially in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The National Science Foundation (2004) estimates that half of the economic growth in America over the last half-century was a result of these disciplines (See also Babco, 2004). Indeed, it is rare to find a college or university that does not have a formal program in place to increase retention and graduation rates. The list of these initiatives is extensive: recruiter presentations, campus visits, orientation sessions, Websites, brochures, Big Sisters and Brothers, counseling facilities, mentoring, traditional "realistic job previews" and "Introduction to College" classes, to name a few. The current study sought to investigate the potential of a new type of initiative based on the ideas behind realistic job previews.

Research indicates that the largest component of the retention problem involves new students leaving before their second year (Tinto, 1993). Researchers analyzing the issue of freshman retention have concluded that the departure rate is caused largely by academic and social stressors encountered by students as they attempt to adapt to the college environment. (See: Tinto, 1993, for a detailed discussion.) These findings support the contention that enhancing student focus and reducing the negative effects of academic and social stressors on first-year college students would increase university retention rates.

Stress can be defined as the negative emotional/physical state that results from being exposed to a threat, (e.g., the inability to avoid a penalty or punisher or obtain a reward) (Palmer, 2003). As defined by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, job stress is "the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, needs of the workers" (as cited in Palmer, 2003, p. 134). Thus, stressors can be thought of as the conditions, contexts, or incidents that cause the stress response. Any organization, including academic institutions, will contain its share of stressors. Students, whose "job" it is to complete university courses, are certainly subject to becoming victims of job stress.

Students may also experience anticipatory stress (Gold & Friedman, 2000); that is, stress prompted by concerns about the future stressors and fear of the unknown that these young adults may encounter as they enter the college environment. The question is whether some additional experiences and opportunities for knowledge gain before or during their initial semester at school could be made available that might serve to inoculate students and mitigate such concerns to the point where student retention is increased. Whether they are experiencing current stress or anticipatory stress, student decisions about whether to remain in college can be affected by their level of stress coping adaptability. …

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