Academic journal article College Student Journal

Academic Performance among African American and Caucasian College Students: Is the Family Still Important?

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Academic Performance among African American and Caucasian College Students: Is the Family Still Important?

Article excerpt

This study assessed the role of the family on academic performance among African American and Caucasian college students. Family functioning, family status, and demographic variables were examined in a questionnaire. Results suggested that although the family continues to be important at the college level, the effect is small. Future research should examine the impact of the family in the context of peer and institutional variables for African Americans and Caucasians separately.


It has been well documented that the family plays a meaningful role in a child's academic performance and development (Cornell & Grossberg, 1987; Thompson, Alexander, Entwisle, 1988; Tucker, Harris, Brady and Herman, 1996). Although the link between family and academic performance has been well established for school-age children and teenagers, the literature on college students is limited (Cutrona, Cole, Colangelo, Assouline, Russell, 1994). The majority of research on parenting with college populations examines academic adjustment as an outcome, not academic performance (Hickman, Bartholomae, & McKenry, 2000; Lopez, 1991; Wintre & Yaffe, 2000). For the studies that have examined academic performance as an outcome, many have only focused on family status variables or parental expectations for grades. This study examines the relationship between academic performance and family functioning, family status, and demographic variables for African American and Caucasian college students.

Family variables

Parental support, parental expectations, and family cohesion are of particular interest in this study. Parental support is defined as the encouragement and assistance given to facilitate students' academic development. The literature reports inconsistent findings relative to parental support and college academic performance. In one study, parental support was a significant predictor of GPA in two independent samples of college students on a predominantly White campus, however, the variable explained only 2.3% and 5% of the variance in GPA (Cutrona et al, 1994). Thus, students of parents who expressed beliefs in their competence and shared their interests and concerns had higher GPA's. Contrary to Cutrona and colleagues, other researchers have reported that parental support was not strongly related to college students' academic performance (Jay & D'Augelli, 1991), especially college GPA (Maton, Douglas, Coms, VieraBaker, Lavine, Gouze & Keating, 1996). It was, however, moderately related to psychological adjustment (Jay & D'Augelli, 1991), adjustment (Gloria, Kurpius, & Willson, 1999), and academic persistence and commitment (Aspinwall & Taylor, 1992; Maton et al, 1996), which may indirectly impact academic performance. Allen (1992) suggests that African American students often turn to Black student organizations or peers for social support.

Among adolescents, Gonzales, Cauce, Friedman, and Mason (1996) examined parental support in the larger context of peer and neighborhood variables, and the impact on academic performance. Findings suggested that maternal support is related to GPA for African American adolescents, but peer support and neighborhood variables had a more significant impact on academic performance than family status and parenting variables.

The literature on parental expectations and academic performance is more consistent than the parental support literature, although it is not without inconsistencies. Upon closer examination of the literature, one will learn that the differences in findings are in some instances based on race (Debord, Griffin, & Clark, 1977; Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleig4, 1988). Early literature suggested that Caucasian parents' grade expectations were related to students' actual grade achievement (Entwisle & Hayduk, 1978; Thompson, Alexander, and Entwisle, 1988), while African American parents' expectations were unrealistically high and unrelated to actual grades (Entwisle & Hayduk, 1978). …

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