Coping Resources and Self-Esteem Differences between Students Selecting a Large and Small College

By Rawson, Harve E.; Palmer, David W. et al. | College Student Affairs Journal, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Coping Resources and Self-Esteem Differences between Students Selecting a Large and Small College


Rawson, Harve E., Palmer, David W., Henderson, Janet, College Student Affairs Journal


Responses on self-report inventories of coping resources and self-esteem were compared between samples of students attending a small private college and a large state university. Differences were found in physical and spiritual/philosophical types of coping resources as well as social self-esteem. Regardless of college size, gender differences were evident in some subscales of both coping resources and self-esteem. Suggestions for further research in this area are made along with implications for effective student affairs programming if the results of this study are supported in future investigations.

Enhancing self-esteem and developing effective coping resources to alleviate the effects of stress have long been goals of student development within all sizes and types of colleges (Arthur, 1998; Battle, 1980; Gotlib & Asarnow, 1979; Heppner & Anderson, 1985; Rawson, Bloomer, & Kendall, 1994; Zemore & Dell, 1983). Such efforts are based on the fact that numerous researchers have documented associations between coping behavior and self-esteem (Jorgensen & Dusek, 1990). Of particular interest to student affairs professionals are findings that people with low self-esteem tend to withdraw from a difficult situation and utilize defensive coping strategies such as denial or repression (Tyszkoma, 1990), as well as tend to view their behavior as situation-dependent (Paulhus & Martin, 1988). People with high self-esteem engage in more beneficial problem-focused coping behaviors (Jerusalem & Schwarzer, 1989), tend to have more flexible behavioral repertoires (Paulhus & Martin, 1988), and prefer more active coping strategies such as seeking social support or advice and information (SeiffgeKrenke, 1990). In view of these findings, some have attempted a broad approach to the task of developing effective coping resources by emphasizing life-skills training (McAdams & Foster, 1998), while others have attempted training in identification of specific coping resources, utilization of available social support, and development of problem-solving skills (Billings & Moos, 1981; Blankstein, Flett & Johnson, 1992; Nazer, 1987).

Researchers have not previously investigated whether students who choose to enroll in small college settings, as opposed to large universities, differ in selfesteem or coping resources. Those choosing small college settings may do so, at least in part, due to their perception that small colleges have more homogeneous (and perhaps familiar) populations, less prominent stressors, fewer people (and problems) with which to deal, and greater ease of access to sources of help due to lower student-faculty/staff ratios. Indeed, small colleges often promote these very features in their admissions literature ("The different types of colleges and universities," 1998). If these factors are influential in college choice, small colleges may attract a disproportionate share of students with lower measures of self-esteem and less confidence in their coping resources since the factors listed above would be most appealing to them. This could place added strain on available student support services and necessitate establishing specific programs to meet the special needs of these students.

Previous investigations have suggested that demographic variables may play a role in coping resource and self-esteem development of students regardless of size of selected college (McGrath & Braunstein, 1997; Pickering, Calliotte & McAuliffe, 1992; Richardson, 1994). Thus various demographic factors such as gender, size of graduating high school, potential or selected major, size of hometown and year in school were included in the study to ascertain if these variables were significantly associated with self-esteem and coping resource scores. This study was primarily conducted to ascertain if such differences were present in the two types of college settings and, subsequently, whether distinct support programs should be designed for each type. …

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