An Examination of Academic Self-Esteem in Historically Black College/University (HBCU) Students: Considering Academic Performance and Task Difficulty

Novell E. Tani, Akeem T Ray
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 3  •  2018  •  pp. 097-116

Using a sample of historically Black college/university (HBCU) students, the study examined (1) differences in academic self-esteem (ASE) levels when considering students’ performance on an academic task that was either easy (low in cognitive demand) or difficult (high in cognitive demand), (2) gender differences in ASE levels, and (3) variations in academic self-concepts, given baseline general self-esteem levels, GPA, academic performance (AP), and perceptions of task difficulty.

This study is the first to date which examines African American students' ASE differences as a result of academic performance and perceptions of task rigor. The optimal arousal theory serves as a framework for the study design; the study utilized a manipulation of the cognitive demand task condition as a means of investigating ASE. Given the mixed and limited literature on gender differences in African American/HBCU subjects, gender differences were explored.

Quantitative analyses of systematically-built surveys and assessments allowed for the examination of participants (n = 410 HBCU student; 303 females). Correlations, analyses of variance, and regression analyses were completed to address research aims.

A novel approach to examining ASE variants within African American students matriculating through an HBCU context is provided.

Students in the Low Cognitive Demand task condition displayed significantly higher levels of academic self-esteem (ASE) than High Cognitive Demand task participants; males yielded marginally higher academic self-esteem levels than females (M = 54.21, M = 51.58; p = .04); and while academic performance marginally predicted ASE levels, most of the variance was attributed to baseline self-esteem levels and subjects’ perceptions of task rigor.

Educational stakeholders, namely, teachers and administrators, are advised to contemplate the importance of students’ perceptions of task difficulty and feasibility and the possible impacts on academic self-concepts. Additionally, educators may consider students’ initial self-concepts when deciding how and when to provide feedback on academic performance.

Self-esteem levels are likely to vary as a result of other self-concepts (e.g., motivational, personal, and contextual factors) that were not examined. As such, the study findings provide clarity on varying ASE levels within the specific sample and should be taken with care.

Increasing our understanding of what negatively or positively impacts academic self-esteem levels in students will further aid our ability to foster stronger scholastic self-concepts in the generations to come.

Future research should examine ASE levels and the extent that perceptions of task rigor impact varying self-esteem levels in African American students enrolled at more racially-heterogenous higher educational contexts (e.g., primarily White institutions, Hispanic serving institutions).

academic self-esteem, perceptions of rigor, academic achievement, HBCU, col-lege students
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