Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Effects of Relational Authenticity on Adjustment to College

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Effects of Relational Authenticity on Adjustment to College

Article excerpt

The authors examined the association between relational health and student adjustment to college. Data were collected from 138 undergraduate students completing their 1st semester at a large university in the mid-southern United States. Regression analysis indicated that higher levels of relational authenticity were a predictor of success during the I st semester; no significant findings were detected for relationships between relational empowerment and engagement constructs and adjustment. Suggestions for promoting relational development are provided.

Keywords: relational health, authenticity, adjustment, college


Completion of a college degree in today's society is intricately linked to economic and social well-being across the life span (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Despite an unprecedented rise in college entry, graduation rates remain strikingly low. Reports by the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center (2012) indicate that approximately 54% of students attending 2- and 4-year colleges do not persist to graduation and depart college failing to earn a degree or certification of any type. Although some students depart college because of an involuntary event that interferes with degree completion, decades of research (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005) indicate that variables affecting student perseverance in college are systemic, constant, and, in most cases, preventable (Pritchard & Wilson, 2003). From a systems perspective, college attrition is most precipitous during the first semester, leading researchers to conclude that student adjustment is, in part, a function of how well students acclimate to campus life (Calaguas, 2011; Gerdes & Mallinckrodt, 1994; D. Lee, Olson, Locke, Michelson, & Odes, 2009; Martin, Swartz-Kulstad, & Madson, 1999; Trotter &: Roberts, 2006). Models of student adjustment proffered to explain this phenomenon identity four distinct yet theoretically related components: academic adjustment, social adjustment, personal-emotional adjustment, and institutional attachment.

Merit for the fourfold adjustment model has been empirically established (Baker & Siryk, 1999; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Swail, Redd, & Perna, 2003), yet no single factor, or set of these factors, can adequately account for the loss of students from the college pipeline (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Pritchard & Wilson, 2003). The shortcoming of extant models to predict patterns of student attrition accurately has prompted researchers to consider alternative variables that exert influence across the traditional domains of college adjustment (Lenz, 2014; Pritchard & Wilson, 2003). Studies conducted through a feminist lens have added a fresh dimension to existing theory by illuminating how relational strength can positively affect college-going experiences (LaBrie et al., 2008; Lenz, 2014; Liang, Tracy, Kenny, Brogan, & Gatha, 2010; Liang & West, 2011).

Anchored in the feminist tradition, relational cultural theory (RCT) contends that women's relationships, based on a mutual acceptance of self, serve as a natural buffer to stress and provide the platform for growth across the life span (Jordan, 1997; Miller, 1976). Although RCT developed in the context of women's studies, more recent studies have demonstrated the applicability of this model for examining characteristics of men's relational well-being (Liang, Tracy, Glenn, Burns, & Ting, 2007). In the present study, by exploring components of college students' adjustment (academic, social, personal-emotional, and institutional), we attempted to extend emergent knowledge to the quality of students' relational health. Using a mixed-gender sample, we theorized that adjustment to college during the first semester is mediated by the existence of growth-fostering relationships, as measured by core dimensions of relational health: engagement, authenticity, and empowerment (Liang, Tracy, Taylor, Williams, & Jordan, 2002). …

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