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Scrutinizing Sophomore Slump: An Exploration of Student Behaviors and Institutional Conditions


This research studied sophomore challenges and issues related to "slump," at a large four-year, urban public university in California. The study investigated sophomore slump in three main areas: (1) academic success, (2) engagement, and (3) satisfaction. The study used survey research methods to quantitatively compare differences in experience between first, second and third year students at this site. I paid special attention to the experiences of students related to sophomore slump, using Kuh's (2007) constructs of student behaviors and institutional conditions to guide my inquiry and identify trends, patterns, and insights surrounding the sophomore slump phenomenon. To further explore differences in experience between sophomores and other class years, certain key demographic variables were used to tease out potential differences that the literature claims impact student experience. Those variables were sex, racial group, major, and first generation status.

The sample included 226 respondents representing currently enrolled first, second and third year students attending the institution who completed the survey issued in the Spring quarter of 2014. The survey included questions taken verbatim from three previously established instruments: the Academic Self- Efficacy Scale (Chemers et al., 2001); the Engaged Learning Index (Schreiner & Louis, 2008); and the Adult Trait Hope Scale (Snyder et al., 1991). Data were analyzed using inferential statistics to compare mean scores on each of the measures between class years, looking for indicators of slump as well as differences by group. Findings showed no indication of slump on any of the measures, but instead, upward trends on multiple measures. However, findings also indicated significant differences between the experiences of student groups by race, especially for Asian Pacific Islanders when compared to White/Caucasian students and students in other racial groups.

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