Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 32 Number 1
October 1992

A SURVEY OF AMERICAN INDIAN COLLEGE STUDENTS: PERCEPTIONS TOWARD THEIR STUDY SKILLS/COLLEGE LIFE

John J. Hoover, Ph.D. and Cecelia C. Jacobs

This study assesses American Indian college students' perceptions toward four areas critical to the successful completion of college. These include perceptions toward: (1) high school preparation; (2) quality of college course instruction; (3) personal views toward attending college; and, (4) study skill abilities. An 80% response rate was obtained, and results reveal slightly positive perceptions toward college life and study skill abilities. Less than positive perceptions are found for counseling and career guidance in high school. Also, students had significantly lower perceptions toward their study skill abilities than they did toward their college course instruction and personal feelings toward attending college. Recommendations related to these results are provided.

Introduction

One of the many critical issues confronting the education of American Indians is preparation for postsecondary education. This is then followed by the application of knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to successfully complete a college education. Recent research shows that approximately 64% of American Indians who complete high school enroll in postsecondary education. However, the document "The Demographics of American Indians" (Hodgkinson, 1990) also suggested that as many as 75% of American Indians who begin college leave prior to graduation. Although many of these students may eventually return to complete their studies, many others become permanent dropout students.

Challenges confronting American Indian students' potential for completing postsecondary education include, among other areas, their study strategies, success with college work, high school preparation for college, and their personal views toward attendance in college. These four general areas, as discussed in the recent publication "A Crucial Agenda: Making Colleges and Universities Work Better for Minority Students," (WICHE, 1989), reflect issues which must be effectively addressed by students in order to succeed in college. For example, Kanoy, Webster, and Latta (1989) found that self-confidence toward academic work contributes significantly to improved grade point average. In addition, perceived ability to successfully complete academic work was found to relate to academic success. This was supported by Shelton and Mallinckrodt (1990) who wrote that perceived abilities to succeed contribute to successful completion of tasks. Gerardi (1990) also documented the importance of positive student attitudes toward academic and school success among minority students in engineering and technology. These findings reflect both confidence in academic work as well as study strategy abilities.

In reference to study habits, Hurlburt, Gade, and McLaughlin (1990) found that prospective Indian teachers held less than positive views toward their own study skills. These authors suggested that more comprehensive efforts in study skills training be provided to these college students. Also, Lollis and Eftink (1990) wrote that college students experience difficulties in college, due in part to poor study habits as well as poor high school preparation for the transition into college. This research report summarizes the results of a nationwide survey designed to identify American Indian college students' perceptions toward aspects related to these four critical areas: quality of college instruction, personal feelings toward college, study habits, and high school preparation for college.

Method

A survey research study was conducted to assess the perceptions of American Indian students currently enrolled in a college or university. The primary purpose of the study was to identify self-perceptions toward college instruction, personal feelings about attendance at college, and study skill abilities. In addition, feedback related to high school preparation for college was solicited. The identification of differences and similarities among students by various breakdown classification was also a component in the design of the study.

Respondents

The respondents to the questionnaire were college students who attended the annual American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) conference held in the fall of 1990. All participants were AISES student members, and 90% were affiliated with AISES college student chapters from around the country. The remaining 10% of the AISES student members were located in schools which do not have a formal AISES chapter.

AISES college chapters are open to all students with specific emphasis toward American Indian students in math, science, or engineering. The college chapter program includes services of a faculty advisor, student officers, leadership conferences, and periodic on-campus activities as determined by each chapter. The chapter program began in 1979 and currently includes 73 chapters nationwide. Tracking of the students by AISES indicates that approximately 80% of the chapter members eventually complete their education, and that many of those students who drop out of college return to complete their degrees. These two factors represent characteristics unique to this group of American Indians in college, given the high dropout rate and low graduation rate of American Indian college students.

During the AISES conference registration, students were provided the survey; respondents completed it anonymously. A total of 257 students completed the survey. This represented 80% of the 320 AISES students attending the conference.

Questionnaire

A 45-item questionnaire was developed for this project. The survey included three subscales and a variety of questions about the background of the respondents. In addition, several items were included which addressed perceptions toward college preparation in high school. Students were asked to respond to each item using a 1-5 scale with 1 representing the least favorable opinion, or strongly disagree, and 5 representing strongly agree. The 45 items reflecting the three subscales were developed from literature and practices related to success and retention in college of minority students (Blake, 1985; Hodgkinson, 1990; WICHE, 1989; Wright, 1985). These were:

1. Quality of college instruction - 14 items

Sample items:

My college courses have helped me to further develop my interests in my major.

I have become less interested in my major as a result of my college courses. College instructors encourage student input, involvement and active participation.

On a daily basis, I generally feel prepared for the classes I attend.

2. Personal feelings toward college - 19 items

Sample items:

I miss seeing my family members to the extent that it interferes with my studying.

My family is happy that I am going to college.

My family's personal needs conflict with my school needs.

I use the various counseling and support services available to me. My college is sensitive to American Indian culture.

3. Study skill abilities - 12 items

Sample items:

My studying abilities need improvement.

I use a variety of study techniques.

It takes me a long time to complete most reading assignments.

I have good test-taking skills.

Demographic information reflected the major areas typically associated with schooling and college (e.g., high school grade point average, college grade point average, year in school) as well as issues critical to American Indian students (e.g., previous family member in college, distance from family, family and peer support for attending college). The items pertaining to high school preparation focused on counseling and career access opportunities and academic preparation, particularly in the math and science areas.

The questionnaire was field reviewed and field tested prior to its distribution. The field test students included students in the AISES chapter and other students in the school of education at a large research institution. In addition, a variety of professionals provided input related to the adequacy of content and clarity of the items. Revisions were made as necessary and again field reviewed by several professionals. Cronbach's Alpha indicated a.88 reliability for the survey's 45 items reflecting the three subscales; of quality of instruction in college, personal feelings toward college, and study skill abilities.

Analysis

Frequencies were computed for the demographic data and items related to high school preparation for college. Means were computed for each of the three subscales. These means were compared using one-way ANOVA procedures. Correlation coefficients were computed between selected demographic variables and subscale mean scores, as well as the total score. The Tukey Multiple Comparison Test was employed to analyze further the differences between subscale means (Glass & Hopkins, 1984).

Results

Table 1 provides a breakdown of the background variables related to the respondents along with perceptions toward high school preparation. As shown, most students were science or engineering majors, 25 years of age or less, attended an off-reservation secondary public school, and had a family member previously attend college. Most students were not married and attended a college which was 200 miles or less from their families. Also, students attended schools in all parts of the country with the most students enrolled in the Southwest. In reference to college preparation in high school, students expressed positive opinions toward their high school teachers and academic preparation, while opinions about college academic and career counseling obtained in high school were not favorable.

Table 1

Characteristics of Respondents

Characteristic

 

% (n)

Gender

Male


Female

51(130)

49(123)

Age

25 and under


over 25

73(183)

27(69)

Major

Math

Science


Engineering


Business

Computer science

Other

5(13)

29(74)

38(98)

5(12)

6(16)


7(42)

Percent Indian Blood

25%


50%


75%

100%

26(66)

19(49)

7(19)

44(112)

Marital Status

married

single


other

14(35)

78(189)

6(16)

College Type

two-year


four-year

11(28)

89(219)

College Geographic
Location

Northeast


Southeast

Midwest


Northwest

Southwest

16(41)

1(3)

17(42)

12(31)

43(110)

College Distance (Miles)
from Family

200 or less


201-499


500-999


1000+

47(120)

24(62)

13(33)

13(33)

Previous Relative
Attended College

yes


no

75(191)

25(62)

Number of Years Since
Beginning College

2 or less


3-5


6-10


over 10

50(124)

31(76)

12(31)

7(18)

One or More Periods
of Dropping Out

yes


no

30(76)

70(174)

Length of Drop-out
Time (Years) Prior to
Returning to College

less than 1


1-2


2-3

4 or more

41(29)

23(16)

4(3)

32(23)

Currently Hold a Job

none


part-time


full-time

42(107)

43(110)

14(35)

Type of High School
Attended

public
off-reservation

public
on-reservation

tribal/BIA

other

60(152)

24(61)

4(9)

11(29)

High School Grade Point
Average (4.0 Scale)

2.5 or less

2.6-3.0


3.1-3.5


3.6+

9(21)

21(49)

30(71)

40(94)

College Grade Point
Average (4.0 Scale)

2.5 or less


2.6-3.0


3.1-3.5


3.5+

27(53)

21(49)

26(50)

11(22)

High School Preparation

(1-5 scale with 5 representing most positive)

Adequacy of . . .

Math Preparation

Science Preparation

Counseling for College Academics

Counseling for Career Choices

Rating

3.15

3.16

2.79

2.53

Table 2 provides the mean scores for each of the three subscales of the survey. As shown, the students held slightly positive opinions toward the quality of their college instruction, their personal feelings toward college, and their study skill abilities. The comparison of the mean scores (ANOVA) indicated a significant difference between one or more scores F(2, 243)=15.7, p<.001. The Tukey Multiple Comparison Test was employed to analyze further the difference in scores, and significant differences were found between perceptions toward study skill abilities and both quality of college instruction (q=4.8, p<.01) and personal feelings toward college (q=7.6, p<.01). The analysis of mean scores (ANOVA) by selected variables and selected correlations yielded non-significant results (p>.05).

Table 2

Mean Scores* of Student Perceptions Toward College

(N=246)

Item

X

Se

Quality of College Instruction

3.26

.322

Personal Feelings Toward Attending College

3.4

.409

Study Skill Abilities

3.2

.310

* Scale 1-5 with 5 representing the most positive

 

Discussion and Implications

The results from this survey provide feedback from American Indian college students as they share their perceptions toward four critical areas considered important to success in college. In reference to college preparation in high school, students indicate adequate preparation in academic areas least and express more concern for guidance and counseling related to career selection. Since an understanding and clarification of goals for attending college (including career choices) is important to the success in college, secondary schools should evaluate their procedures to ensure that this area is adequately addressed with American Indian students. In addition, postsecondary personnel should continue in their efforts to help students clarify their college and career goals, particularly during the first semester of college as dropout rates are high during this initial time in college.

The students also indicate a slightly positive opinion toward their college instruction and personal feelings toward attending college with the latter representing the most positive. Since most students belong to an AISES college chapter, with guidance and support from a faculty advisor as well as peers, these results suggest that this type of chapter program in college assists with the development of students' confidence and personal/social needs. This supports the documented importance of such programs in higher education (Wright, 1990).

Specifically, AISES chapter students have the opportunity to attend a leadership conference designed to improve self concept and to enhance one's own positive views toward college, family, and social experiences. In addition, chapters may engage in various informal or formal meetings or gatherings which contribute to a positive college life. Results from this research suggest, along with prior research results, the importance of peer and faculty support in some organized way for college students.

Students also express slightly positive opinions toward their study skill abilities. However, this is significantly lower than their opinions toward college instruction and personal feelings. Given the fact that the study skills score is just slightly positive, additional assistance in this area either at the secondary level and/or college level may prove beneficial to the students. Increased skills in this area may also improve opinions in the other two areas resulting in greater satisfaction and success at the postsecondary level. Although the student scores in study skill abilities are only slightly positive, this represents a positive aspect in the students' college success since positive attitudes toward one's abilities has been shown to significantly affect academic achievement.

Although differences among scores are found for the total group, no differences are identified within various breakdown categories (e.g., gender, distance from family, previous family member in college, grade point average) and none of the student characteristics correlated significantly with student opinions. This may highlight the potential homogeneity of this group either as those who attended the national conference or, on a broader scope, those students who elect to become AISES student members. This represents a limitation of this study and must be considered when generalizing results. However, as illustrated in Table 1, the students appear to possess a variety of differences with respect to factors such as age, grade point average, gender, distance from family, or college location. Since a small percentage of American Indian students attend and remain in college, this national sample has provided valuable input concerning how they perceive selected aspects of their college life and preparation. Their opinions provide positive indicators for continued success in college, while also identifying some critical areas for educators to focus upon in their work with American Indian students as they attempt to attend and complete a college education. This includes continued participation in AISES chapter activities as well as additional support in study skill development and use and faculty support in college coursework. Additional research in this area is suggested with other groups of American Indian college students. Specifically, perceptions of students not involved in organized support chapters, such as AISES chapters, should be assessed at both two-and four-year institutions.

Dr. John J. Hoover is currently Director of Research and Evaluation for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He was formerly Associate Professor of Special Education at the University of Texas, Tyler. He has over 30 published articles, books, and chapters most of which address the topics of study skills and learning strategies.

Ms. Cecelia C. Jacobs is currently Project Coordinator for a major science and alcohol curriculum development project at AISES. She has over 20 years experience in education including teaching and curriculum and software development. This current national project involves over 70 educators of American Indian students nationwide and will supplement existing science curriculum in grades 4-9.

References

Blake, J.H. (1985). Approaching Minority Students as Assets. Academe, Vol. 71, N-D, 19-21.

Gerardi, S. (1990). Academic Self-Concept as a Predictor of Academic Success Among Minority and Low-Socioeconomic Status Students. Journal of College Student Development, September, Vol. 31, 402-407.

Glass, G.V. & Hopkins, K.D. (1984). Statistical Methods in Education and Psychology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Hodgkinson, H.L. (1990). The Demographics of American Indians: One Percent of the People; Fifty Percent of the Diversity. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Educational Leadership.

Hurlburt, G., Gade, E., & McLaughlin, J. (1990). Teaching Attitudes and Study Attitudes of Indian Education Students. Journal of American Indian Education, 29(3), 12-18.

Kanoy, K.W., Wester, J., & Latta, M. (1989). Predicting College Success of Freshmen Using Traditional, Cognitive, and Psychological Measures. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 22(3), 65-70.

Lollis, T.J., & Eftink, S. (1990). Parent-Student Support Program Promotes Academic Success. Journal of College Student Development, July, Vol. 31, 377-379.

Shelton, D. M., & Mallinckrodt, B. (1990). Test Anxiety, Locus of Control, and Self-Efficacy as Predictors of Treatment Preference. College Student Journal, Winter, Vol. 25, 544-551.

WICHE (1989). A Crucial Agenda: Making Colleges and Universities Work Better for Minority Students. Boulder, CO.

Wright, B. (1985). Programming Success: Special Student Services and the American Indian College Student. Journal of American Indian Education, 24(l), 1-7.

Wright, B. (1990). American Indian Studies Programs: Surviving the '80's, Thriving in the '90's. Journal of American Indian Education, 30(l), 17-24.

 
 
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