Family, Personality, and Social Risk Factors Impacting the Retention Rates of First-Year Hispanic and Anglo College Students

Article excerpt

Late adolescence can be characterized as a period in which individuals seek to achieve a psychological sense of autonomy from their parents by successfully addressing a number of key tasks (Adams, Montemayor, & Gullotta, 1996; Modell, Furstenberg, & Hershberg, 1976; Steinberg, 1990). Prominent among these tasks are the completion of schooling and preparation for adult roles. More and more, attaining a college degree defines success in this arena. However, it is often the case that promising Hispanic and Anglo-American adolescents who begin college do not always return after their first year, much less complete a degree (Solberg & Villarreal, 1997; Wechsler, Davenport, Dowdall, Moeykens, & Castillo, 1994). Adopting an ecological perspective (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), this study examined and compared potential risk factors related to the college retention rates of first-year Hispanic and Anglo college students.

It is noteworthy that Hispanic adolescents are significantly underrepresented in college populations. Although 1,014,000 Hispanics were enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education in 1995 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1996), the proportion of Hispanic high school graduates who attend college has continually declined since the 1980s (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993). Further, among those Hispanic students who enter college, retention rates are markedly poor (Solberg & Villarreal, 1997). Recent research has indicated that 80% of all Hispanic undergraduates leave college without graduating (Eagle & Carroll, 1988; Wechsler et al., 1994). Among high school graduates, the percentage of Hispanics who eventually earn a bachelor's degree has been noted to be roughly one-third that of Anglos (Eagle & Carroll, 1988).

Such figures have prompted a call for the understanding of potential risk and protective factors that are associated with Hispanic college student success (Solberg & Villarreal, 1997). Recently, a variety of research efforts have considered the problem of low retention rates of Hispanic youth (Nora, 1990; Solberg & Villarreal, 1997). The impact of social support, stress, and identification with the college community have been investigated as potentially important factors (Munoz, 1986; Solberg & Villarreal, 1997). However, previous research has not examined the potential impact of such risk factors as family dysfunction, parental addiction, and individual temperament on the college retention rates of Hispanic students.

Past research which has focused primarily on Anglo college students impacted by the effects of parental addiction and family dysfunction has consistently found such students to be at elevated risk to experience the problematic outcomes of substance use (Hawkins, 1997; Sher, Wood, Crews, & Vandiver, 1995; Wechsler et al., 1994) and negative college experiences (Garbarino & Strange, 1993; Kashubeck & Christensen, 1995). Additionally, research has found Anglo students' personality factors and family socialization processes to be important risk factors in the development of adolescent antisocial behavior, substance use, and eating disorders (Clair & Genest, 1987; Fischer & Wampler, 1994; Mintz, Kashubeck, & Tracy, 1995; Pidcock, Fischer, Forthun, & West, 2000; Rogosch, Chassin, & Sher, 1990; Stice & Barrera, 1995; Stice & Gonzales, 1998). Similarly, the absence of nonparental mentoring has been found to represent a significant risk factor for negative outcomes associated with family addiction and poor family fun ctioning (Jenkins & Brown, 1988; Sampson & Laub, 1993).

Drawing on and integrating the findings of previous research, the specific focus of this study was to identify potential ethnic differences in risk factors that may result in, or contribute to, elevated risk of increased drinking and related problem behavior in adolescents as they make the transition to college, which in turn may help to explain the low retention rates of Hispanic students. …