Marital Status, Ethnicity, Academic Achievement, and Adjustment Strains: The Case of Graduate International Students

By Poyrazli, Senel; Kavanaugh, Philip R. | College Student Journal, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Marital Status, Ethnicity, Academic Achievement, and Adjustment Strains: The Case of Graduate International Students


Poyrazli, Senel, Kavanaugh, Philip R., College Student Journal


This study sought to empirically assess the relation of marital status, ethnicity and academic achievement in relation to the adjustment strains experienced by international graduate students. One hundred and forty nine international students attending five universities in the United States participated in the study. Correlational and multiple regression analyses indicated that married international students experienced lower levels of social adjustment strain than single students, and that Asian students experienced more overall adjustment strain, more specific strains related to education and English, and lower levels of English proficiency than European students. Findings also indicated that students with lower levels of academic achievement reported lower levels of English proficiency and more overall adjustment strain. Other results showed that master's level students reported more strain related to English and education than doctoral students. Implications of these findings are discussed.

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The Institute of International Education (2005) reported that there were 572,509 international students in the United States (U.S.) during the 2003-2004 academic year, comprising nearly 5% of the total college student population. This represents an increase of roughly 100,000 international students in a ten-year period. Presently, students representing over 170 foreign countries are enrolled in American colleges and universities. Higher education is a leading export that generates $12 billion a year for the U.S. economy through international student spending on tuition, living expenses, and other costs. Although rarely addressed, one of the areas of greatest expansion has been in graduate education. Fifty-eight percent of international students are graduate students and many serve as research assistants and contribute to research productivity. As teaching assistants, many teach courses to undergraduate students, primarily in the applied sciences, such as engineering. As such, graduate student sojourners contribute to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) both directly (through research involvement) and indirectly (by teaching and training future professionals).

Accordingly, many studies have examined the experiences of international students with regard to social support (Hayes & Lin, 1994), host language proficiency (Barratt & Huba 1994; Poyrazli, Kavanaugh, Baker, & Al-Timimi, 2004), and acculturation and acculturative stress (Berry, Kim, Mindle, & Mok, 1987; Poyrazli et al., 2004; Zhang & Dixon, 2003). However, much remains to be learned about the intersection of marital status, ethnicity, and academic performance as it relates to sojourner adjustment strain. Regrettably, these areas have generally been investigated in isolation from one another. For example, Oropeza, Fitzgibbon, and Baron (1991) and Yi, Lin, and Kishimoto (2003) addressed the role of marriage and partner relationships on international student adjustment. Within the broader realm of adjustment, Berry and colleagues (1987) have addressed acculturation, and more specifically, how ethnicity impacts acculturative stress, although mediating factors such as marriage and social support are often minimized in this work. More recent research (Poyrazli, 2003; Poyrazli et al., 2004) has examined multiple factors regarding acculturative stress with regard to adjustment in a more general sense, but again, not considering the role of marriage. This study addressed these issues by examining how marital status, ethnicity, academic achievement, and adjustment strains relate to each other among graduate international students.

Adjustment Outcomes and Marital Status

Generally, any group entering a new culture faces myriad issues pertaining to cultural adjustment and adaptation in the host country. Research suggests that student sojourners often experience greater adjustment difficulties than other immigrating groups (Berry et al. …

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