Department of Educational Administration


Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate School at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Educational Leadership & Higher Education), Under the Supervision of Professor James P. O‘Hanlon. Lincoln, Nebraska: April, 2012

Copyright (c) 2012 Catherine B. Holbrook


The first year of college is critically important to student success, often shaping the amount and nature of growth and learning over the entire collegiate career in complex and profound ways. For this reason, higher education experts have called for colleges and universities to establish integrated, intentional programs for new students with identified outcomes which are regularly assessed to evaluate effectiveness. The purpose of this concurrent nested study was to investigate how college sophomores perceived their personal development during the first year of college against 10 specific competencies and to understand what types of first year experiences contributed to any reported developmental gains.

Using quantitative data from a survey developed for this project, the study identified gains in these competencies through comparison of students’ self-reports of current level (CL) skill with their retrospective self-reports of entry level (EL) skill in the same competencies using paired samples t tests. Further analysis was conducted using analysis of variance (ANOVA) to determine whether variables of gender; residency; racial or ethnic diversity; and participation in meaningful activities had any impact on reported gains. Additional ANOVA analysis was conducted to determine if there were any interactions between the three demographic variables and participation. Finally, qualitative data provided insights into factors contributing to perceived student growth in the 10 competencies.

Participants reported significant gains in all 10 competencies. No differences in gains on the 10 competencies were found based on gender; racial or ethnic diversity; or participation in activities. Two significant differences in competency gains were found, with campus residents reporting higher gains in understanding of difference and writing skills than their commuting peers. Students of color reported significantly more involvement in meaningful activities than their white peers. A number of between group effects were found, providing valuable information to guide intentional practice.

Students were able to identify a wide range of curricular and co-curricular factors contributing to their growth in each competency in open-ended responses that were coding using emergent theme coding. Curricular factors predominated in the acquisition of writing and speaking skills, while co-curricular factors predominated in the acquisition of decision-making, self-knowledge, self-esteem/confidence, understanding of difference and community involvement. Problem solving and community involvement were affected equally by factors in both categories.

Adviser: James P. O‘Hanlon