A new study led by researchers at the University of Texas and Stanford University finds that all students face challenges in making the transition to college. This can be particularly true for African American students and these challenges can be a reason that retention and graduation rates for Black students are far below those for other racial and ethnic groups. Furthering the problem is that many Black students are aware of these problems faced by new college students and this anxiety can compound the problem.
But the study found that incoming students who are exposed to challenges that are common and improvable become more likely to get involved on campus, build relationships, and ultimately succeed at a higher rate. These exercises — referred to as lay-theory intervention — were presented to new students online during the summer before the first year of college. This informed the students what challenges lay ahead and how best to cope with them.
Greg Walton, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford and co-author of the study, stated that “it helps to know in advance that it’s normal to struggle at first in college. It doesn’t mean you’re dumb or that people like you don’t belong in college. When you know that struggles are normal, it’s easier to take a chance on making friends even when you feel different or isolated, join a student group, or go to your professor’s office hours.”
The study, “Teaching a Lay Theory Before College Narrows Achievement Gaps at Scale,” was published on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It may be accessed here.