Development of the Student
Success Scale to Predict Non-Intellectual Factors Related
to Student Retention and Achievement
By Joan H. Rollins, Mary
Zahm, Peter F. Merenda, and Gary Burkholder
This article reports on the preliminary development of a Student
Success Scale to measure non-intellectual factors related to college achievement
as measured by grade point average (GPA). A 200 item scale was completed by 340
students at Rhode Island College during fall semester 1998. Grade point averages
were obtained 275 students from the Records Office in February of 2000. Exploratory
factor analysis indicated there were seven factors. Three of the factors, Hard
Work/Time Management, Responsibility and Self-Confidence were significantly correlated
with students’ grade point averages. Some items that did not load on any
factor were also correlated with GPA.
The purpose of the research reported is the development of a Student Success
Scale that is being constructed to delineate non-intellectual psychological factors
related to student achievement, as measured by grade point average (GPA) and graduation
We are proposing that attaining of high grades in college, often while working
at a job full-time or part-time and, as is the case of many of our students today
managing family obligations as well, qualifies as a stressful situation that requires
non-intellectual psychological skills as well as intellectual ability Although
college and university admissions offices select students based on high school
grade point averages (GPAs) and standardized test scores such as the Scholastic
Aptitude Exams (SATs), which measure math and verbal academic potential, many
students who begin college fail to graduate. United States Education Secretary
Richard Reilly recently reported that the college drop out rate stands at 25 percent
(Panel to study ‘who cares-syndrome,’ 2000, June 16). The percentage
is higher at state supported colleges such as Rhode Island College where only
45% of students entering the college in 1991 had graduated six years later (Student
Retention, 1998). The drop out rate is costly in terms of personal lives, the
college or institution spending financial aid and other resources on students
who do not graduate, and society not benefiting from a trained citizenry.
A body of research has been emerging in recent years, reporting certain non-intellectual
factors to be correlated with GPA of college students. Several studies have found
that students who actively manage their time have higher GPAs than students who
do not plan and schedule their time. One study with ninety college students at
the University of Georgia found that time management was a better predictor of
GPA than SAT test scores. Students self-report questionnaires indicated that better
students had better Time Attitudes, which meant they had a better sense of control
over their time and said “No” to unproductive activities (Britton & Tesser, 199l). The second factor predictive of higher grades was Short Range Planning.
It encompassed activities such as weekly and daily planning lists. In another
study, students were randomly divided into two experimental groups, a specific
monthly schedule group and a moderately specific monthly schedule group and a
control group (Kirschenbaum, Malett, & Humphrey, 1982). In a one-year follow-up
study, they found that students who used the more flexible moderately specific
monthly planning schedule in combination with rewards to encourage themselves
to persist in achieving their goals had significantly better performance in school
work than students in the other conditions.
Self-efficacy is concerned with judgments of capability of performing a specific
task (Bandura, 1997). Self-efficacy for performing well in specific courses has
been related to less worry about the course and lower general test anxiety (Bandalos,
Yates, & Thorndike-Christ (1995). Another factor related to levels of text
anxiety has been goal orientation. When the goal is a performance goal (i. e.,
the grade) the student is more likely to have test anxiety than when the student
has a learning goal (i.e., learning statistics), which is more likely to lead
to changes in learning strategies and increased effort when the student encounters
difficulty (Ames & Archer, 1988; Elliot & Dweck, 1988). The reason for
this difference seems to be that students who have performance goals are more
likely to attribute failure to external, uncontrollable causes such as luck or
hard teachers, and to attribute success to internal, controllable causes such
People with high self-esteem are more accurate in judging their strengths and
weaknesses than individuals low in self-esteem (Baumgardner, 1990). Therefore,
people with high self-esteem are able to set appropriate goals, and are able to
make use of information about a task to determine the optimal level of persistence
and personal effort that they need to expend in order to successfully complete
it (Sandelands, Brockner, & Glynn, 1988). The sense of self-certainty, the
feeling that the person knows oneself, seems to be a factor leading to high self-esteem.
Based on research such as this, we undertook to write 200 items for the initial
Student Success Scale. We hypothesized that factors on the Student Success Scale
would correlate with grade point average (GPA).
The research proposal was approved by the Human Participants in Research Committee
at Rhode Island College. A 200 item Student Success Scale was completed by 340
undergraduate students who responded to the scale on a scan sheet during class
time, or as volunteers outside of class. Many of the students responding to the
scale were first semester freshman enrolled in College Course 101, which is a
course designed to help them adjust to college. I asked the Psychology Department
secretary to inform me of when a faculty member was going to cancel class because
of illness and asked the faculty member if I could go to their class and administer
the scale instead of canceling it. Some faculty also gave students extra credit
for taking the scale outside of class. In that case, faculty members were informed
that they had to make an alternative for extra credit available to the class.
Participants were given an informed consent sheet that indicated that “the
purpose of this research is to pre-test a scale which is designed to determine
those feelings, thoughts and behaviors related to a successful transition to college.” They were also told that responding to the scale was completely voluntary and
that they could discontinue responding to the scale at any time. They were asked
not to put their names on the scan sheet, but to put their social security numbers
on the scan sheet in order for it to be possible to examine the relationship of
scale scores to college grade point average and college completion. They were
informed that their academic record would be checked every year for up to six
years in order to determine their grade point average (GPA) and enrollment status.
The research reported here was a prospective design. Students completed the scale
during fall semester 1998, and GPAs were checked in February of 2000.
Factor analysis was performed using SAS Version 6.12. The purpose of factor
analysis is to determine if the observed variables, in this case the responses
to the individual questions, could be explained in terms of a much smaller number
of variables called factors. Exploratory factor analysis using oblique (PROMAX)
rotation was conducted on 194 items of the original instrument (six items were
deleted since they were redundant with other items in the instrument). Analysis
indicated that there were seven principal components. Items associated with the
seven factors were resubmitted to principal components analysis after removing
items that were complex (i.e., difference in factor loadings on two or more factors
were less than or equal to .20). The solution indicated seven factors: Resiliency
versus Vulnerability (34 items; _ =.94); Hard Work (22 items; _ =.91); Responsibility
(18 items; _ =.85); Self-confidence (10 items; _ =.76); Empathy (9 items; _ =.74);
Future Orientation (6 items; _ =.84); and Community Orientation (4 items; _ =.88).
All factors indicated high internal consistency.
A correlation analysis was conducted to determine the correlation of factors
with overall GPA. The correlation coefficient, denoted by r, is a statistic that
measures the degree of association between two quantitative variables. It is measured
on a scale that varies from + 1 through 0 to - 1. A perfect correlation between
two variables is expressed by either + 1. or -1. When one variable increases as
the other increases the correlation is positive; when one increases as the other
decreases it is negative. Complete absence of correlation is indicated by 0. The
factor correlations with GPA are provided below:
|Factor Correlations with GPA
|| Correlation Coefficient (r)
HW=Hard Work/Time Management
* p < .05
** p < .001
***p < .0001
The correlations between three factors and GPA were statistically significant:
Hard Work/Time Management, Responsibility and Self Concept.
A multiple regression analysis was performed to determine the relative contribution
of each of the factors to prediction of overall GPA. All items were entered simultaneously
into the model to get the relative contribution of each while controlling for
other factors in the model.
||Parameter Estimate (_)
HW=Hard Work/Time Management
The Hard Work/Time Management factor made a highly significant contribution
to prediction of GPA. Self Concept also significantly contributed to GPA, with
Responsibility making a marginal contribution to prediction of GPA. Future Orientation,
on the other hand, was somewhat of a negative predictor or GPA.
The items that correlated with GPA but did not form part of the resulting factor
structure were run in a regression analysis with the factors to see if there were
questions that appeared to be explaining variance unique from the factors. The
model explained variance was 26%. The following items added unique variance to
I feel that circumstances have prevented me from being successful. -.16 (p
When I start a project I begin with the end in mind. +.25 (p = .0001)
I am always responding to the needs of others rather than my own. -.13 (p =
I find it hard to believe that I will be able to graduate from college. -.22
(p = .0002)
My mind wanders when I try to study. -.26 (p = .0001)
These items appear to be important and will be included in future versions
of the Student Success Scale.
The factor named Hard Work/Time Management was highly correlated with student
achievement as measured by GPA. It is not surprising, in view of the work of Carol
Dweck and others on entity theorists and incrementalists (Hong, Chiu, Dweck, Lin,
& Wan, 1999). Students who are entity theorists believe that intelligence
is a fixed trait and tend not to perform as well at academic tasks, particularly
after negative feedback, in comparison to students who are incrementalists, who
believe that high grades in school demonstrate hard work. Examples of items from
this factor that were positively correlated with GPA were: “My teachers have
felt that I work harder than most other students”; “I work harder than
most other students that have been in my classes”; “I schedule my time”;
and “I work hard at pursuing my goals.” Examples of items from this
factor that were negatively correlated with GPA were: “I put off doing homework
until the last minute”; and “I put things off that I don’t feel
Responsibility was also a significant predictor of GPA. People who are irresponsible
in a variety of ways are particularly unlikely to do well in college. Examples
of items in this scale that negatively correlate with GPA are: “I turn in
assignments late”; “I am always borrowing money from people”; “I
use drugs to help improve my mood”; “I lose my temper with a friend”;
“I think that I have a learning disability” and “I plan to improve
my life by winning the lottery”.
Self Confidence was also a significant predictor of GPA. The item from this
factor most strongly correlated with GPA, in a negative direction, was, “I
am not as smart as most other college students”. Items positively correlated
with GPA from this factor are: “I work well under pressure”; and “I
try to live with integrity”.
The counter intuitive finding that Future Orientation is negatively correlated
with GPA may have occurred because of lack of process in any of the statements
in that factor. Examples of items in the Future Orientation factor are: “I
know what I want my major to be”; “I have no idea what I want to do
when I graduate from college”; “I can clearly see where I want to be
five years from now.” The importance of process has some support in the research
literature. In research by Lien Pham and Shelley Taylor (as cited in Aspinwall,
L. G. & Taylor, S. 1997), 77 student participants took part in an experiment
in which they received training in mental simulations, which they were then instructed
to practice on their own for five minutes a day for five to seven days prior to
the midterm exam. In the process-simulation condition, they were told to visualize
themselves studying for the exam in a place such as the library, or at their desks
at home and going over the lecture notes and reading the text chapters with the
goal of achieving a grade of A. In the outcome-simulation condition they were
told to see themselves having received the grade of A, beaming with joy and feeling
proud of their accomplishment. A third group was a control group not given any
mental simulation training or exercises to practice. All three groups were called
the night before the exam, and asked about the number of hours they had studied,
when they had started studying for the exam and their expected grade. The results
indicated that the process-simulation group began studying for the exam earlier
and spent more hours studying and received significantly higher grades on the
exam than students who were in the outcome-simulation or the control group. What
this study shows us is the importance of focusing on the steps to achieving our
goals rather than on the goal itself. In the Future Orientation factor none of
the items refer to the steps in the process of goal achievement.
Two factors that did not correlate with GPA at all were Empathy and Community
Orientation. These factors are tapping a helping orientation toward others, but
however laudatory this may be as an attribute for students to possess, it is unrelated
to academic achievement and items on these factors are being dropped from the
revised Student Success Scale.
The ultimate goal of this research is to use the Student Success Scale to screen
students at risk of college failure based on non-intellectual psychological variables
and to design an intervention to teach those skills to students at risk. Rollins
and Zahm have written a book, Secrets of Success in College and Life, which has
an extensive bibliography and incorporates the research basis of many of the psychological
variables represented in the Student Success Scale.
Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement in the classroom: Student learning
strategies and motivational responses. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80,
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and proactive coping. Psychological Bulletin, 121, 417–436.
Bandalos, D. L., Yates, K., & Thorndike-Christ, T. (1995). Effects of math
self-concept, perceived self-efficacy, and attributions for failure and success
on test anxiety. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87, 611–623.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H.
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Baumgardner, A. H. (1990). To know oneself is to like oneself: Self-certainty
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Britton, B. K., & Tesser, A. (1991). Effects of time-management practices
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Providence, RI: Authors.
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Providence, RI: Office of Institutional Research.
Copyright © 2002 Joan H. Rollins, Mary Zahm, Peter F. Merenda, and Gary
Development of the Student Success Scale to Predict Non-Intellectual Factors
Related to Student Retention and Achievement, Issues in Teaching and Learning,
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