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Emotional intelligence as a predictor of college student retention and success

Michaela L Willis, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The purpose of this quantitative study was to determine the relationship between emotional intelligence and first- to second-year college student retention and first-year college GPA. The study examined student data from a small, four-year, public college in the Midwest with an open enrollment mission and a high percentage of first-generation college students. Five hundred ninety-one first-year college students completed the EQ-i Higher Education (EQ-i HEd™) assessment consisting of 133 items related to emotional intelligence prior to the start of their first semester in college. Three years of assessment data were collected for this study. Given the limited research in the area of emotional intelligence as related to college student persistence, this researcher aimed to provide quantifiable data linking retention and college GPA to emotional intelligence. Further, the researcher looked at the relationship between the various sub-scales of emotional intelligence as defined by Reuven Bar-On (1988, 1997) and Multi-Health Systems (2011) and potential relationships to retention and first-year college GPA. Finally, the researcher combined emotional intelligence sub-scales with other variables known to predict college GPA and retention to understand if emotional intelligence enhanced prediction. Of fifteen subscales on the EQ-i, seven were found to have a statistically significant positive correlation to first-year college GPA: self-actualization, empathy, social responsibility, impulse control, problem solving, and optimism. Two subscales showed a statistically significant negative correlation to first-year college GPA: assertiveness and independence. Total EI score had no statistically significant relationship to first-year college GPA. Total EI score and the seven subscale scores of emotional self-awareness, empathy, social responsibility, reality testing, problem solving, optimism, and happiness showed a statistically significant relationship to first- to second-year college student retention. In addition to high school GPA and ACT composite score, four EI subscales of assertiveness, empathy, social responsibility, and optimism enhance the prediction of first-year college GPA. High school GPA, ACT composite score, and the EI subscale of social responsibility are significant and positive predictors of first- to second-year retention.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Educational psychology|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Willis, Michaela L, "Emotional intelligence as a predictor of college student retention and success" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3632266.