Finding a place: The social and academic adjustment of minorities to college

Mary J Fischer, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation introduces a new framework for examining how students adjust to college that builds on Tinto's influential model of college student departure, but augments and alters it in several ways to better account for the experiences of students, especially minorities, in college. The most fundamental change is the recognition that various stresses can affect how students adjust to college, as well as how they perform academically. I pay particular attention to minority status stresses, as prior research suggests minority status can profoundly shape how students experience campus life. I use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, which contains information on nearly 4,000 white, black, Asian, and Hispanic first time freshmen from 28 selective colleges and universities. I begin by defining several types of social and academic ties, including ties to own group, formal, and informal ties. I then examine how groups differ across these measures and how pre-college factors are related to ties formed. For instance, students whose parents made greater human and cultural capital investments in them while growing up formed more extensive formal social ties to others on campus, as well as more extensive informal and formal academic ties. Minority students who grew up in environments that were more integrated also formed more informal academic and social ties to others on campus, even after controlling for other pre-college characteristics. I hypothesize that stress experienced by students can affect the ties formed to others, as well as college outcomes. I define several measures of stress, which I categorize into general school stresses, external stresses, and minority student stresses. Black and Hispanic students tend to experience higher levels of all of these stresses. I found in general that stress influenced how students adjust to college, with most stresses resulting in fewer ties and worse outcomes. Minority stresses had the most uniformly negative impact on satisfaction with campus social life and psychological health as measured by depression. I conclude that minority stresses, especially when combined with other stresses, have the most potential to undermine the well-being of minority students on campus.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Fischer, Mary J, "Finding a place: The social and academic adjustment of minorities to college" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3087400.