Ethnicity affects academic success, study shows

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Black and Hispanic college students are more likely to face family crises that reduce their chances of graduating on time, according to a study presented at an annual conference Saturday.

Bradley Cox, assistant professor of higher education at Florida State University, and Robert Reason, associate professor of education at Pennsylvania State University, studied the frequency and effects of stressful family situations for more than 2,500 students in 22 selective institutions. Family crises included a parent losing a job or a family member becoming a crime victim.

They found about 40 percent each of black and Hispanic students experienced a family crisis during their sophomore year ­— which was nearly 6 percent more than white students and nearly 20 percent more than Asian students.

Cox said black and Hispanic students were likely to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, which makes them vulnerable to family crises.

“We presume that the students in those colleges have some form of advantageous background or support network, at least when compared with your typical college student,” he said.

Cox said universities should take a more proactive approach to identifying the many students facing family crises by early alert systems.

In fall 2010, 122 of more than 51,100 UT students withdrew for medical or mental health reasons, said senior social worker Judith Mitchell. Jane Bost, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said family crises could impact students in a variety of ways, including finances and concentration abilities.

“Their first priority may not be academics,” she said. “What’s going on may cause disruption to concentration, sleep, nutrition.”

Bost said the center tries to combat the stigma surrounding mental health by giving presentations tailored for specific ethnic groups, hosting public events and offering counseling alternatives, such as telephone counseling.

“We try to provide all these different entry points through the outreach that we do or the training that we do,” she said.

Richard Reddick, assistant educational administration professor, said family crises were especially burdensome for students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“There may not be resources in the family to help you continue to go to college if something traumatic happens,” he said.

Through his research on mentoring, Reddick found black students are more reluctant to discuss life stresses with faculty because they try to avoid being seen as a burden. He said when faculty members explain their own difficult situations in the past, it can be helpful to their students.

“It tells them first of all that you care, and second that you have experiences that perhaps they can benefit from,” he said.