Fast Company

How to Shrink the College Minority Gap

Two Stanford researchers have tested a confidence-boosting technique that dramatically increases the performance of minorities in college.

Stanford U Main Quad

Two Stanford researchers have found a free, universally accessible method of shrinking the college minority grade gap. A simple, one-hour confidence boosting intervention dramatically boosted GPA, and also had lingering effects on well-being, health, and negative stereotyping.

College is an exceedingly fragile time for most students, slightly less than half of whom never finish. For minorities, the problems is especially pronounced. "When your group is in the minority, being rejected by a classmate or having a teacher say something negative to you could seem like proof that you don't belong, and maybe evidence that your group doesn't belong either," Professor Gregory Walton tells ScienceDaily. "That feeling could lead you to work less hard and ultimately do less well."

To combat the devastating mix of insecurity and home-sickness, a randomly selected group of students--both white/European and African American--took part in a therapeutic self-affirming exercise. Participants read narratives of upperclassmen speaking about their own college difficulties to encourage "students to attribute adversity not to fixed deficits unique to themselves or their ethnic group but to common and transient aspects of the college-adjustment process," reads the study.

The clincher of the intervention included a psychological slight-of-hand, having students read aloud and record their own thoughts for future students. The technique, what the researchers call “saying-is-believing effect," leads participants to secretly internalize the message being spoken. The results, published in the prestigious journal, Science, were remarkable for minorities: a roughly 25% saw an increase in GPA, triple the percentage of those in the top 25% of their class, and 32% experienced a decrease in self-reported doctors visits. By comparison, the intervention had a much smaller effect for white students, confirming the the researchers' hunch that negative stereotyping was behind poor minority performance.

While the results of the study are still experimental, the the techniques may provide a cheap and effective way to reduce the racial disparity in higher education.

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[Image: Wikimedia user Pere Joan]

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