Non-Cognitive Predictors of Academic Achievement for African Americans across Cultural Contexts

Article excerpt

Two hundred-fifty African American college students from two predominantly White institutions (PWIs) and two historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were administered the Non-Cognitive Questionnaire-Revised (NCQ-R) and the Multidimensional Inventory of Black Identity (MIBI) to determine which psychosocial indices best predicted academic achievement across cultural contexts. It was hypothesized that some non-cognitive factors of academic achievement would generalize across institution-types, while others would be more context-specific. Results indicate that of the psychosocial indices that reliably predicted African American achievement, none generalized across institution-types. At PWIs, availability of academic support person, ability to understand and deal with racism, and humanist attitudes were the most reliable predictors of academic achievement. At HBCUs, positive academic self-concept was the only non-cognitive factor that surfaced as a good predictor of achievement for African Americans. The study underscores the importance of cultural context in determining non-cognitive predictors of academic achievement for African American college students.

INTRODUCTION

A considerable amount of research has focused on traditional measures of cognitive ability such as the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) as an indicator of academic achievement for students in higher education institutions, with inconclusive evidence for African Americans (Fleming, 2002; Fleming & Garcia, 1998; Houston, 1983; Jencks & Phillips, 1998; Stack & Porter, 1980). Researchers have begun to look past traditional cognitive assessments of academic ability to evaluate non-cognitive factors specific to achievement-related beliefs, knowledge of and adjustment to social context, and variables related to campus climate (D'Augelli & Hershberger, 1993 ; Perry, 1981 ; Sellers, Chavous, & Cooke, 1998). This issue is of significant importance for many institutions of higher learning that seek to increase ethnic and racial diversity on campus amid growing public concerns regarding the degree of adherence to merit-based admission criteria ("This wasn't," 1999).

While traditional merit-based approaches have not entirely failed, they have tended to dismiss the unique contextual and institutional barriers that many ethnic minorities must negotiate in order to compete and be academically successful. Moreover, institutional approaches that do consider these barriers to academic achievement still fall short of recognizing that not all ethnic minority groups are affected in the same way by contextual or economic hardships; that is, not all ethnic groups are underperforming on achievement tests, nor are their perceptions governing certain cognitions alike. African Americans, for instance, do not perform as well as Native Americans, Latinos and Asians on SATs (Llagas & Snyder, 2003) for reasons that may be specific to the African American experience and their psychological negotiation of certain academic and cultural barriers. For example, Steele and Aronson (1995) and Steele (1997) purport stereotype threat as an adverse factor contributing to poorer performance on these assessments for African Americans. This psychosocial process, and others like it, may function to undermine specific abilities related to the stereotype thereby affecting African Americans' performance on these high-stake assessments.

In theory, higher education institutions are concerned with whether or not prospective students would be a "good fit" with the academic goals and objectives of the university. High school GPA and the SAT scores of prospective students continue to be the primary measure of academic fit used by colleges and universities, even in light of evidence which has shown that SAT scores are not reliable predictors of academic achievement for African American students (Jencks & Phillips, 1998; Stack & Porter, 1980). This study proposes that there are other reliable, positive, psychosocial indicators (i. …

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