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Young Adults Value Self-Esteem Boosters Above All

Get those blue ribbons and gold stars ready. A team of researchers say young adults seem to value benefits to their self-esteems, such as receiving a good grade, or a compliment, more than other pleasant experiences, such as eating a favorite food, drinking alcohol, or sex.

An article detailing the experiment is in an online edition of the Journal of Personality, and will be in a future print edition. Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, Scott Moeller of Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Jennifer Crocker, a professor of psychology at Ohio State, conducted two studies to arrive at their final conclusion.

In both studies, participants were asked to rate how much they like specific activities, from talking with a friend to getting praise. Then they were asked to rate how much they wanted these things to happen. Previous research has indicated that addiction can be detected when one wants something even more than one likes it. For most activities, most of the students had a healthy perspective: They like cake, but don’t want it more than they like it. However, many students indicated wanting self-esteem boosters as much or more than they like getting them. And students in general rated figurative pats on the back more highly than other pleasures.

In one of the studies, the participants took a test they were told measures intellectual ability. After the students saw their scores, researchers offered to recalculate the scores with a different formula that usually results in higher numbers. Students who valued self-esteem a great deal were far more likely to wait around for new, potentially higher, scores.

The researchers stop short of claiming any of the study participants are “addicted” to positive self-esteem, but they do warn that these inclinations can have negative effects. Someone who is overly protective of her self-esteem might be reluctant to acknowledge mistakes, for example.

Do these results surprise you? How much do you think your students — and student staff — value praise?


You Were Asking: A Little Bit About Everything

The Ontario Association of College & University Housing Officers (that’s OACUHO, for the acronym-happy) asked me to do a presentation about trends in housing. They’re starting a series of monthly webinars  for OACUHO members on topics of general interest. This was my first webinar presentation, ever. I’m grateful to OACUHO’s members, particularly organizer Sean Kinsella, Residence Life Coordinator at Sir Sandford Fleming College, for being patient with me.

I decided to discuss the housing trends from the perspective of the sources I use when finding answers for our members’ most frequently-asked questions. These questions usually involve construction, policies, salaries and job duties and other management aspects of housing.

The government resources referred to in the presentation have their United States equivalents in the United States Census, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I’m happy to offer advice and tips to anyone wanting to use the resources mentioned in the presentation (or others) for research!

The presentation: Trends in Housing

You Were Asking: Finding Academic Articles

A lot of my time is spent searching academic databases for articles on student housing or college students in general. I’m happy to run searches for ACUHO-I members, but if you’d like to find the cites for yourself, here’s some tips.

I rely on four databases to find most of the citations I distribute through ACUHO-I. Since ACUHO-I’s Central Office benefits from a relationship with Ohio State University, we use OSU’s library system too. Your selection of databases may vary, but the ones I use most are: Education Full Text from H.W. Wilson; Education Research Complete from EBSCO Host; ERIC from EBSCO Host and PsycINFO from Ovid.

The best way to get what you want out of a database is to use search terms that are recognized by the database. While doing a full-text search on your own term (if possible) may net useful results, it may also result in lots of stuff that’s of no interest to you, with the items you want buried in the results somewhere. How do you figure out which terms the database prefers? Look in the database’s thesaurus. Unlike Roget’s, this thesaurus has little to do with synonyms; it is a listing of terms recognized by the database. Often the thesaurus is a little hard to find, since it’s an insider sort of thing to know about. Looking at the advanced search options might help; also look at the small menus above and below the big Google-like search box.  If you can browse the subject list, that’s it.

After using a database regularly, you’ll become familiar with its nomenclature. For example, in all the databases I just mentioned, the term residence halls isn’t used; the preferred term is dormitories. Another way to find useful terms is to find an article you want (either one you already know of, or one you find through an otherwise less-satisfying search) and look at the subject terms. Then search on those. You can also combine searches to get more targeted results. Let’s say you searched on “dormitories” and then you searched “autism” and you want to see how many records have both of those subjects attached. There will usually be a link or button called “search history” or similar. Click it, and you’ll see the searches you’ve already done and how many hits each got. Select the searches you wish to combine, choose to combine them with AND (not OR, which will give you one omnibus result!) and there’s autism + dormitories. Databases are not perfectly consistent however, so be sure you’ve covered all your bases. The broader term “College-students–Housing” is often used as a subject for articles in which “dormitory” would be equally appropriate. So run your search with that term as well. If you want to look like a librarian, and save some time by conducting only one search, you could do this too: “(Dormitories OR College-students–Housing) AND Autism”. See? Now all the pretty infogeeks are checkin’ you out!

Advising Student Groups

Amanda Wallace, of  the University of Alabama, and Anne Stark, from Purdue University, are researching the challenges of advising student groups and the ways a professional advisor can help make the relationship work. If you’ve had experience in this area, please help your colleagues by completing their short, 16-item survey.

Please pass this on to anyone who can assist. There’s always a need for more research in student housing, and this is an easy way to help!

Money Well-Spent

Colleges and Universities employ a myriad of programs aimed at retention; many, not all of these, are in the student affairs area; plenty of those are in housing. Living-learning communities, mentoring, tutoring, freshman introductory programs, second-year experience programs, et cetera, are all aimed at getting students to graduation and improving their experience along the way. The success of these programs is often measured on retention and graduation rates. But that’s not the only way to measure success; there’s also the more business-like (or callous?) way: do the students who stay (and continue paying tuition and fees) make up for the monies spent on the programs? For the most part, they do, says a report, Investing in Student Success, sponsored by Jobs for the Future and the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability. Thirteen institutions allowed their retention programs to be evaluated using a costs-to-returns calculator. While the return of a programs could not be accurately calculated because of a lack of necessary data, most did very well, their returns outstripping the costs considerably.

Teaching What Can’t Be Taught

Discussions about the moral development of students are common in every office and program in academia, from students themselves to senior administrators. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, another such discussion took place at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference, and the evidence presented at that meeting wasn’t particularly encouraging for those who hope to take a 18 year-old Lord of the Flies character and turn him or her into a bright-eyed, productive member of society in four years.

The first problem is that college students may be a bit too old for their moral and ethical values to change considerably. This theory was posited by Matthew J. Mayhew, an assistant professor of higher education at New York University; Ernest T. Pascarella, a professor of higher education at the University of Iowa; and Tricia A. Seifert, a postdoctoral research scholar at Iowa. The researchers analysed data on 1,470 students at 19. The data was gathered for the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, a longitudinal study of student learning. The researchers classified students’ moral development in two stages: a transitional stage, during which the student is still determining his or her overall values. In this period, the student will use context and circumstances to consider a situation. When a student is in the consolidated stage, he or she has set criteria and patterns used for decision-making on moral issues. Transitional students are more likely to report improvements in their moral reasoning as the result of courses or programs designed to improve these qualities. Consolidated students are not affected by these programs either way. The researchers claim that while many administrators and instructors assume students arrive at college in the transitional stage and stay there for much of their college careers, this may not be correct. Thus morally- and ethically-centered programs may be too late to the party.

Another study suggests that it’s not that students’ decision-making processes are already solidified, but the conflicting messages offered by society and institutions dilute the effectiveness of moral and ethical development programs. Tricia Bertram Gallant, coordinator of the Academic Integrity Office at the University of California at San Diego, examined two universities that adopted honor codes, and how the codes affected (or didn’t affect) students’ moral development. While the honor codes fit their institutions well in some ways, the institutions contradicted themselves. Professors seemed to feel that research and publishing on morals and values would be better rewarded than teaching on these issues. Students felt that when it came right down to it, grades mattered above all else. Neither institution saw a significant change in its atmosphere or levels of academic dishonestly. Perhaps telling is the title of Bertram Gallant’s upcoming book, of which she is co-author: Cheating in High School Is for Grades, Cheating in College Is for a Career.

Of course, the solution isn’t to fling up our hands and give in, but to keep looking for the ways programming and experiences can touch students. Check out ACUHO-I Annual Conference sessions, such as “Not Your Mother’s Diversity Program” by Tom Fritz, Florida State University Housing for inspiration.