Ponds, Priorities, and College Academic Performance

Jayanti Owens, Princeton University
Thomas J. Espenshade, Princeton University

College academic priorities are a manifestation of a student’s psychosocial orientation towards academic performance. Although academic priorities change over time, past research models academic priorities—and related concepts, like achievement motivation, academic effort, and academic expectations—as relatively static. ‘Frog pond theory’ offers a novel way to conceptualize how and why college academic priorities are likely to change as students adjust to their college environment. Findings support the frog pond theory in helping explain college academic performance at the start of college, but call for a nuanced theory. Over time, the environmental context that had been novel and wrought with a variety of untested expectations becomes normalized. As normalization occurs, recent grades, rather than institutional context, become more salient in re-calibrating academic priorities. We show academic priorities during the last two years in college are re-calibrated based on each student's actual performance during the first two.

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Presented in Poster Session 2