Waitsman: Dispositional Resilience and Person-Environment Fit as Predictors of College Student Retention

Defense Information: Monday April 9, 2012 at 11:30am in Brackett 419
(the conference room)

Dissertation Title: Dispositional Resilience and Person-Environment
Fit as Predictors of College Student Retention

Committee: Robert Sinclair (Chair), Cynthia Pury, Patrick Raymark, and
Patrick Rosopa

Abstract:

As more students drop out of college and the cost of leaving school
with a degree rises, it becomes increasingly critical to help match
students to a school that will educate them and facilitate graduation.
While the college student retention literature has formulated a number
of ideas and theories about how to do this, the current study uses an
idea from the psychological literature, person-environment fit, in
order to understand the role of an individual’s fit with their college
environment on student success. The current study examines individual
differences in resilience as well as those in preferences for the
presence or absence of environmental variables. Comparing an
individual’s desire for (the absence of) particular features of the
college environment to whether or not they are at a school with (or
without) those attributes creates a measure of fit. The Job
Demands-Resources (JD-R) model is used to explore the role that
dispositional resilience and job demands such as a lack of fit between
an individual’s preferences and objective environmental features play
in affecting student retention and adjustment.

The current study hypothesizes that resilience will be most
effectively measured by a single factor resilience model comprised of
hardiness, core self-evaluations (CSE), and positive psychological
capital (PsyCap). Further, it is hypothesized that resilience and good
fit will individually and interactively predict higher commitment,
better adjustment, and fewer intentions to leave a school. It is also
hypothesized that fit will be of particular importance in predicting
outcomes for students in the first half of their college careers.

All of the hypotheses were tested utilizing an archival data set
collected from three diverse colleges and universities. Factor
analyses led to the creation of a new six factor resilience model
comprised of facets from all three composite constructs as well as
nine dimensions of college fit. These fit dimensions as well as the
resilience dimensions predicted all of the retention-related outcomes.
Additionally, there were some significant interactions between fit and
year in school as well as fit and resilience.

Results supported the importance of both fit and resilience for
understanding retention as well as different role fit plays for those
in their first two years of college compared to those later in their
college careers. These results also underscored the importance of
resilience, particularly the purpose dimension addressing how students
make meaning from their lives, for understanding student retention.
Contributions, limitations, and future directions are discussed.

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