Experiences of Earned Success: Community College Students’ Shifts in College Confidence

Susan Bickerstaff
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University

Melissa Barragan
Department of Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine

Zawadi Rucks-Ahidiana
Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

Confidence and related constructs such as self-efficacy have been previously identified as important to college student persistence and performance (e.g., Cox, 2009; Wood & Turner, 2011), but existing research gives little indication of how confidence is shaped by students’ day-to-day interactions in class and on campus. Using data from nearly 100 interviews of community college students attending three colleges, this paper examines students’ descriptions of their confidence upon entering college and the shifts in confidence they experienced in their first few semesters. Findings reveal that student confidence is continually shifting as a result of interactions with peers, faculty, and others. The analysis demonstrates how academic confidence can impact student motivation, commitment to academic pursuits, and behaviors associated with success. This paper identifies the nature of experiences that positively reinforce student confidence, events that we term experiences of earned success. We use these data to identify a set of approaches that instructors and other post-secondary educational professionals can employ to positively influence student confidence and improve student success.

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