Kiana Y. Shiroma, NACADA Research Grant Recipient
The United States’ ethnic minority population is expected to increase from 37% to 57% by 2060 (Hixson, Helper, & Kim, 2012). However, the U.S. dropped from second to thirteenth place in postsecondary graduation rates among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (OECD, 2012), which may be due to the low percentage of people of color who have a bachelor’s degree. Despite the challenges these individuals face, some still succeed. While investigating the underachievement of underserved Students of Color (SOCs) is imperative, examining those who succeed is also important so we can learn how to help more SOCs be high-achieving. Past theories and studies conflict as to whether internal or external factors influence SOCs’ motivation. Additionally, few investigations examined how advisors affect the motivation of underserved SOCs. These paucities highlight the need to understand the motivation of underserved SOCs and how academic advisors influence this motivation. This study aims to create knowledge regarding what advisors can do to positively affect the motivation of SOCs by using the Culturally Engaging Campus Environments (CECE) Model of Success (Museus, 2014b) as a framework that explains the impact of campus environments, acknowledges the role of motivation and success, addresses the limitations of traditional perspectives, and focuses specifically on SOCs (See Figure 1, reprinted with permission).
To learn more about the role advisors have in the motivation of SOCs, 22 high-achieving undergraduates from underserved racial and ethnic populations were interviewed individually for around an hour. Participants were recruited from the Honors Program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UHM), which has one of the most diverse student bodies in the U.S. In this program, the percentages of white, Japanese, and Chinese students are higher than that of the overall UHM undergraduate population. All other ethnic groups have percentages lower than that of the general student body. These groups were considered underserved populations. Participants also had to be high-achieving, which meant having a composite SAT score above UHM’s average, earning a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, being an Honors student, and engaging in co-curricular programs, which is similar to criteria of past studies (Alabaili, 1997; Fries-Britt, 2002; Griffin, 2006; Harper, 2005). Students were contacted during their last year in college to reduce the researcher’s perceived power as an academic advisor and to ensure they are still aware of what motivates them. Participants’ anonymity was maintained by using assigned pseudonyms.
Four advisor characteristics were found to positively affect the motivation of participants. Three were CECE Model aspects while one was an additional trait. One trait that motivated students was their advisor developing a meaningful relationship in which they demonstrated that they care about their students’ success. Students explicated how connecting with their advisor in the Honors Program on a personal level and knowing that she was there to support them increased their motivation.
Another trait that motivated participants was the extent to which academic advisors proactively brought important information, opportunities, and support services to students, rather than expecting students to seek them out on their own. High-achieving SOCs who were interviewed felt motivated when their advisors made sure that they were on track academically.
Third, holistic support also motivated participants. This refers to the degree to which students had access to at least one advisor who was able to provide various types of information and support. One student felt motivated when she received emotional and financial support from her advisor. Another participant received numerous kinds of support from an academic advisor of an underserved SOC program, including providing pertinent information and connecting her to other valuable academic programs, which motivated her to succeed academically.
One additional influence for a majority of interviewees was the cultivation of self-improvement by their academic advisors, which refers to the degree to which advisors inspired their students to better themselves. Students were cultivated to improve themselves by knowing and fulfilling their academic requirements, engaging in co-curricular programming, and avoiding the negative consequences that ensued if the program requirements were not fulfilled. The findings of this investigation support earlier studies’ results and provide new and supplemental perspectives into the role advisors have on the motivation of college SOCs.
This investigation’s findings have significant implications for academic advisors and institutions that serve underserved SOCs. Therefore, recommendations for postsecondary educational policy, practice, and research are provided in this section. In regard to policy, the support systems and academic advisors that were most influential on students’ motivation provide academic, financial, and social support. This could be an attestation that state and federal support are required to increasing the motivation of underserved SOCs. Thus, in order to ensure that their colleges and universities maintain high retention and graduation rates, and more importantly, to provide a supportive environment for students of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, it is imperative that policymakers consider the significance of providing funding for needed resources.
For institutional policy, higher education hiring committees and administration should be aware of two considerations regarding how their decisions may affect the underserved SOCs at their institutions. First, the ratio of students to advisors should be considered. The more students advisors oversee, the less time they have to establish individual meaningful relationships with them. Second, the potential impact of hiring academic advisors who understand and are dedicated to meeting the needs of underserved SOCs should be contemplated by colleges and universities.
As for higher education practice, leaders should comprehend the power that their insitution’s campus has on the motivation of students from various racial and ethnic groups. This study’s findings demonstrate that efforts of improving the motivation of SOCs that are siloed in a specific program may not be as effective as comprehending and working toward reshaping the campus-wide culture to promote the motivation among those students, as all students who were interviewed for this investigation were motivated by multiple on-campus programs, services, and individuals. The implications of this study in regard to the practice of academic advisors are tremendous. Advisors should also recognize and understand the potential direct effect they can have on underserved SOCs. The characteristics that were mentioned as positively affecting SOCs’ motivation do not require the support of anyone else nor additional funding, just advisors’ initiative and care for their advisees.
Although this analysis provides valuable insight into how advisors can foster the motivation of high-achieving SOCs, it has limitations. First, only one institution was examined in this study. Second, low-achieving underserved SOCs were excluded. The findings and conclusions, therefore, must be read with caution. To allow the conclusions of this investigation to be applied to other colleges and universities, further inquiries should expand the sample to include both two-and four-year institutions and students at various achievement levels. Additionally, future studies should have a researcher who was not an acadmic advisor of the participants as this may have affected the participants’ responses and students may have felt pressured in responding.
In closing, more research needs to be performed on the effect of advisors on the motivation of underserved SOCs. The findings of this investigation provide valuable insight into how academic advisors foster success among underserved SOCs. However, few studies focus on the role of advisors in the motivation of SOCs. Additional investigations are needed to gain more knowledge about the potential influence academic advisors may have on the motivation of underserved SOCs and how they can help their students succeed. NACADA provides various types of support and opportunities to conduct research in academic advising, including research symposia, listservs, and grants. This particular study was possible due to the support of the NACADA Research Grant. Researchers can also publish in Academic Advising Today and the NACADA Journal and give a presentation at a conference. Conducting research on the effect of academic advisors on the motivation of students and applying the results and implications of these studies will help advisors establish the best policies, practices, and procedures that ensures the academic success of students of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, which is becoming increasingly important as future generations become more diverse.
NOTE: The University of Hawaiʻi Human Studies Program approved this study on human subjects. Approval letter is available upon request.
Kiana Y. Shiroma, PhD
Director, Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center
University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
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Museus, S. D. (2014a). Culturally Engaging Campus Environments Model of College Success. Retrieved from http://www.du.edu/cece-project/model/index.html
NOTE: Figure 1 reprinted with permission
Museus, S. D. (2014b). The Culturally Engaging Campus Environments (CECE) Model: A new
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Cite this article using APA style as: Shiroma, K. (2015, June). What academic advisors can do to positively influence the motivation of underserved students of color. Academic Advising Today, 38(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]