Are Student Attitudes Towards College the Key Factor in Academic Failure?

From the Chronicle of Higher Education: Attitude Seems to Matter Most  "Ms. Mislevy and Ms. Campbell studied dozens of different items from the Beginning Student Survey to see which ones predicted enrollment behavior. For both women and men, the single most powerful predictor was the "attitude toward the University of Maryland" question. In response to that finding, Ms. Mislevy said, a campus committee on retention plans to encourage faculty members and dormitory resident advisers to have conversations with first-year students about their perceptions about the university. In cases in which students strongly dislike Maryland, the committee would like to know exactly why."

 This is a classic case of the fallacy of correlation rather than establishing causation. One could conclude that what students really need is a motivation talk by Tony Robbins to "pump up their attitude" toward the school. It is really the student's fault for not having the "right attitude" toward the school. Interesting idea to have the students with bad attitudes have to talk to a COMMITTEE and explain "exactly why" they have this attitude towards Maryland. I am sure that most freshmen, especially the historically underrepresented ones, would have a great attitude about facing a committee of old people in suits who represent the power elite at the school that the students need to graduate from.

Alternative theories that might explain the "attitude correlation" with success.


  1. Maybe the privileged White kids attending Maryland were better prepared socially, emotionally, and academically than the "bad attitude" students.
  2. Perhaps the institution (surprise, surprise) and its dominant culture may repel first generation, economically disadvantaged, or students of color. See my comment above about why "interrogating" the students would be ineffective, if not an encouragement for the students to get out since they obviously have bad attitudes.


The root causes of student dropout rates has more to do with the institution than the students. Let's find out the institution's culture and its attitude towards students before we grill the students on their attitudes.