The Importance of Non-Academic Factors and College Readiness

Most parents, dream of their children’s graduation from college and successful careers, this is especially true for parents who have not attended any higher education institutions (Conley, 2010). Parents rely on high schools to provide the academic preparation necessary for college success. However, high school graduation does not necessarily equate with college readiness. Many students are not prepared for success in college (ACT, 2012).

It’s well established that GPA, completing rigorous coursework , and high American College Testing (ACT) scores greatly impact students’ college preparedness and students’ ability to meet first year of college demands.  These are known as academic factors. Though academic factors are extremely important, this article is for the purpose of providing insight into Non-Academic Factors that improve college preparedness as well as retention beyond the first year of college.

High School to Post-Secondary

The transition to post-secondary institutions is a huge life change for all students. (Tinto, 1993). In his theoretical model, Tinto (1993) focuses on several predictors of retention and success in college.  Academic and nonacademic preparation during K-12 and adjusting to college life are more likely to predict students who drop out of college during their freshman year. Students drop out for many reasons such as a lack of financial aid, being unprepared for college therefore students cannot meet academic rigor, personal reasons, and inability to adapt to their chosen institution.

Tinto (1993) suggests that “college ready” transition to college is categorized under Academic and Non-Academic adjustments. Academic adjustment enables students to grasp at least minimum standards regarding academic performance. Non-academic indicators include, social integration, becoming actively involved, and building relationships with faculty, psychological and physical stability and individual’s ability to fit with the institution, and a sense of belonging. College can be the best four years of one’s life, however, it is a time when students must adapt to obscure situations filled with new challenges and barriers. This transition separates students from their childhood friends. Students are forced into challenging new task, roles, routines, and relationships. It is time for students to put into practice all of the social skills, norms, and expectations taught by their immediate family, because college life allows for more freedom, independence, and responsibility. As a result of this transition, identity transformation also takes place, which forces students to choose their own actions. Therefore, it is imperative for the universities to implement interventions that are designed to serve the well-being of students, which enhance retention. Non-academic factors are just as important as academic factors. Social integration and college support are imperative components for student’s endurance (Tinto, 1975, 1993). Tinto disclosed that less than 25% of students who dropout from postsecondary schools, are related to academic problems. Majority of students cut ties due to failure with integration. Students become unhappy with college life expectancies and develop feelings of isolation. Tinto’s Longitudinal model of Departure describes an “interactive model of student departure” (p. 112) and as “primarily sociological in character” (p. 113). Tinto (1987) put forward as a basis of argument that students prior to college experiences such as psychological skills, family background, secondary schooling, impact students’ goals and resilience. As a result, students’ goals influence university experiences.

Non-Academic Factors                                                                                              

The author’s areas of focus for this article are Non-Academic factors.  Non-Academic factors are seldom acknowledged when considering whether or not a student is college ready.  Consequently, non-academic factors can be strong predictors as it relates to preparing students to persevere through rigorous coursework and calculated expectations of postsecondary institutions. School districts more than not, solely focus on Academic factors such as rigorous coursework completion, high school grade point average (HSGPA), and ACT scores and never consider other factors associated with students’ college preparedness. Non-academic factors such as students’ confidence, self-motivation, finances, social support, family support, and some researchers would say the most important non-academic factor is social integration. Social Integration is considered a postsecondary student’s ability to connect with others through joining organizations, meeting and building relationships with new positive friends, and developing friendships with college employees (Tinto, 1975). These practices reduce the chances of students feeling home sick or a sense of loneliness.  Both contribute to students dropping out of college.

All students who enter college have gone through K-12 exposed to contrasting experiences. Research findings by Stupinsky, Renaud, Perry, Ruthig, Haynes, and Clifton (2007) suggest individual differences have a major impact on students’ post-secondary achievement. Adaptability, endurance, motivation, self-efficacy, self-control, mindset and self-regulation leverage how students react to academic expectations of college, college life expectations, and transitioning.  Mind-sets are the attitudes, beliefs, and emotions students have about themselves and schooling (Dweck, 2006; Walton, & Cohen, 2011). Examples include engagement, motivation, self-efficacy, and persistence (Robbins et al., 2004).

Academic preparedness cannot live in isolation. Students who complete AP courses, score high on ACT/SAT, and earn high grade point averages are less likely to drop-out of college due to poor academic performance. Instead, dropping out is possibly due to their inability to integrate socially as well as not being motivated by their college selection.  First year students who join orientation programs have a higher success rate in college opposed to students who do not participate in such social clubs. Research findings also suggest students who were admitted to colleges with a low ACT score and grade point average but yet had strong social connections and supports, had much better graduation success (Schnell, 2003). These findings also “suggest students’ entering characteristics play an important role in persistence to graduation, but potential for success can be increased with the addition of first-year programs” (Lotkowski, Robbins, & Noeth, 2004, p. 14).  Furthermore, research results support the notion that when schools consider pre-college academic strength such as GPA, ACT scores, and non-academic predictors students’ performance increases and the same can be said for their sustainability through rigorous post-secondary years.  ACT (2010; 2012) research shows that differences in college success across racial/ethnic and income groups narrow when students have the requisite academic achievement and relevant nonacademic skills (Robbins, 2004; 2006).

Alliance of Academic and Non-Academic Factors

College retention programs can do a better job of retaining students by combining both academic and non-academic factors. The most compelling alliance to retention happens when academic and the most important non-academic factors are parallel to each other (Asera, 1998; O’Brien & Shed, 2001; Tucker, 1999). Many students with poor academic performance still endure the rigor of college due to their social integration and feelings of belonging with their chosen college. Universities that implement programs that embrace mentoring and support groups into their school’s mission, enhances levels of student involvement, motivation, and academic self-confidence. Consequently, students ultimately remain committed to the institution (Padgett & Reid, 2003). Interventions will help keep students actively engaged as well as help students meet the expectations of academia and college life transitions.


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