It’s Who I Am: Student Identity Centrality and College Student Success

THE FOLLOWING BLOG POST IS AN EXCERPT FROM "It's Who I Am: Student Identity Centrality and College Student Success" ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice Volume 54, Issue 3.

Despite considerable research on student retention and persistence, college graduation rates remain modest. This article proposes the concept of student identity centrality, which is defined as the extent to which being a student is important to ones self-image or identity. This study found student identity centrality was positively related to goal commitment, institutional commitment, and intent to persist, even when controlling for precollege attributes and college experiences. Additional findings and implications are discussed.

College attrition constitutes a serious concern for students, families, higher education institutions, and policymakers alike. Among U.S. students who started their postsecondary education in 2003–04, fewer than half had obtained any college degree within six years (Radford, Berkner, Wheeless, & Shepherd, 2010). Scholars have proposed various theories regarding the factors that contribute to student attrition; in the title of his influential book, Braxton (2000) aptly refered to this search for explanations as the “student departure puzzle.” Theoretical perspectives on student retention and persistence flourished in the 1970s (Berger, Ramirez, & Lyons, 2012). Tinto’s model has received considerable attention through studies based on this framework and through critiques and reformulations of this framework (for a summary, see Museus, 2014). Despite considerable debate over these theories, several constructs are similar across the most widely cited models, including commitment to the goal of college graduation, commitment to one’s institution, and social and academic dimensions of involvement/integration/adjustment (e.g., Bean & Eaton, 2000; Braxton, Hirschy, & McClendon, 2004; Museus, 2014; Nora & Cabrera, 1996; Tinto, 1993).

This study adds to the literature by introducing student identity centrality as a new construct. Student identity centrality may shape student success not only directly but also by diminishing the role of other factors that may lead to attrition. To provide an understanding of this construct, we first provide a definition of identity centrality and discuss the existing literature. We then introduce the concept of student identity centrality and argue for its potential role in shaping college persistence. Finally, we propose and test theory-guided predictions about the direct and moderating relationships of student identity centrality with goal commitment, institutional commitment, and intent to persist. 

Read the full article online.