An intriguing study out today finds that a one-hour exercise to boost students’ confidence can improve the grades of minority college students. This and another recent study showing that coaching can make a difference in whether students complete college raise obvious questions about whether similar weapons could be deployed to help high school students.
First, let’s back up and give you the basics on the two studies, both out of Stanford University. The coaching study looked at an individualized student-coaching service called InsideTrack, which helped students in their first year at public and private universities to clarify their goals, develop their skills, and handle their outside-of-school lives. Students who received that coaching were about 5 percentage points more likely to be in school a year later than those who did not. The effect held on, though diminished somewhat, for another year, as well. Four years later, the graduation rates of the coached students were four percentage points higher than those of uncoached students. The authors also found this approach to be more cost-effective than other retention strategies such as offering more financial aid.
The second Stanford study, scheduled for publication tomorrow in the journal Science, looks at the effects of an exercise designed by psychologists. It was intended to address the doubts that minority students can feel as they enter college. Professors Greg Walton and Geoffrey Cohen studied 90 second-semester freshmen, dividing them into control and treatment groups, each of which included black and white students. Students in the treatment group read surveys of and essays by upperclassmen of various races and ethnicities, describing their struggles getting help, and interacting well with professors and friends during their first year in college. The upperclassmen relayed that in time, they tackled those problems and felt confident and successful.
In essays of their own, the treatment-group members wrote about why they thought the upperclassmen’s experiences changed over time. They folded their own experiences into the essays as well, later revising them into videotaped speeches that could be watched by younger students.
The idea, Walton said in a statement, was to encourage black students to see their adjustment experiences as universal rather than unique to them individually or to their racial group.
Tracking the experiment’s students for several years, the professors found that the exercise made no difference for white students, but made an impact on black students. The black students in the treatment group had higher GPAs and class rankings and reported a greater sense of belonging and better physical health than those in the control group.
The social-belonging exercise alone certainly isn’t the answer to solving the achievement-gap problem, Cohen said in the official Stanford release, but it contributes to the field’s knowledge of the kinds of things that can help.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.