Roksa, J., T.L. Trolian, E.T. Pascarella, C.A. Kilgo, C. Blaich, and K.S. Wise. 2017. “Racial Inequality in Critical Thinking Skills: The Role of Academic and Diversity Experiences.” Research in Higher Education, 58, 119–140.
Summary of the Article
Roksa et al. seek to identify aspects of the college experience that may shape racial differences in the development of critical thinking skills during college. The authors place their research within the context of the literature on racial inequalities in such matters as college access and college completion. They also note that inequalities in learning outcomes have received little attention in the literature. Nevertheless, a few studies report inequalities in the development of critical thinking skills for African American students (Arum and Roksa 2011; Flowers and Pascarella 2013) and Hispanic students (Kugelmass and Ready 2011) However, these studies failed to identify specific college experiences that shape these racial disparities in the development of critical thinking skills. In their study, Roksa et al. focused attention on specific aspects of the college experience that may lead to racial disparities in the development of critical thinking skills.
Accordingly, these authors selected specific dimensions of the academic experience and two forms of diversity experiences as aspects of the college experience that might affect the development of critical thinking skills. Time spent studying and experience with faculty members assessed in terms of teaching clarity and organization constitute the two specific dimensions of the academic experience used in this study. Negative and positive diversity interactions stand as the specific forms of diversity experience. The authors used a composite of four items to plumb negative diversity interactions and three items to measure positive diversity interactions. Both positive and negative diversity interaction items asked students to estimate how often they experienced specific types of interactions with diverse students or students that differ from themselves in terms of race and national origin. Two examples of negative diversity interactions are feeling silenced by prejudice and experiencing hostile interactions as a result of sharing one’s story. Positive diversity items include interactions with diverse students or students who differ from themselves in terms of race or national origin marked by meaningful and honest discussions about social justice, discussions about inter-group relations, and shared personal feelings and problems.
Roksa et al. used data collected as a part of the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education (WNS) to obtain these measures of the academic experience and diversity interactions. The WNS includes 43 four-year colleges and universities. Of the institutions, 28 are liberal arts colleges, six are research universities, and nine are public regional colleges and universities. The WNS used a longitudinal panel design with data collected from students over a four-year period. The study relied on an analytical sample of 2,636 students.
The authors used hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to discern the influence of academic experiences and diversity interactions on the development of critical thinking skills. They used the Critical Thinking Test of the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency of the American College Testing (ACT) Program to measure critical thinking skills. Students were administered this critical thinking test at the beginning of their first year in college and again at the end of their fourth year in college.
In addition to critical thinking skills at entry, Roksa et al. also controlled for a variety of background characteristics such as gender and parental education as well as the percentage of students of color at each institution and institutional selectivity (average ACT scores of entering first-year students). The HLM executed also included the two measures of academic experience (time spent studying and teaching clarity and organization) and the two forms of diversity interactions as well as variables for African American, Hispanic, and Asian students.
Discussion of the Findings
Roksa et al. report that African American and Hispanic students both experience less growth in their critical thinking skills during college than either white or Asian students. However, these inequalities in critical thinking skills are reduced to some degree by student experiences with faculty who are organized and exhibit teaching clarity. Teaching clarity and organization also positively influence the development of critical thinking skills whereas negative diversity interactions wields a negative influence on the development of critical thinking skills. Moreover, neither hours spent studying nor positive diversity interactions affect the development of critical thinking skills. Roksa et al. also tested for interactions among different racial groups, diversity experiences, and academic experiences on the development of critical thinking skills. The results of these interaction tests indicate “the effects of academic and diversity experiences on critical thinking are the same for African American and white students” (p. 133).
Implications for Action by Campus Leaders
The harmful influence of negative diversity interactions on the development of students’ critical thinking skills coupled with the finding that such negative diversity interactions similarly affect African American and white students is important for campus leadership to note. Roksa et al. state “some observers of higher education have noted that campus administrators often do not pay close attention to racial interactions until there is a highly publicized incident” (p. 136). Accordingly, Harper and Hurtado urge colleges and universities to “audit their campus climates and cultures to determine the need for change” (2007, p. 20). An audit could result in benefits to critical thinking for all students. Leaders of CIC institutions should consider the Culturally Engaging Campus Environment (CECE) Model instrument developed by Museus, Yi, and Saelua to audit campus climates and culture.
About the Authors
Josipa Roksa is an associate professor of sociology and education at the University of Virginia.
Tenielle L. Trolian is an assistant professor in the department of educational policy and leadership at the University of Albany, State University of New York.
Ernest T. Pascarella is professor in educational policy and leadership studies at the University of Iowa.
Cindy A. Kilgo is an assistant professor in leadership, policy, and tech studies at the University of Alabama.
Charles Blaich is the director of the Center of Inquiry at Wabash College and the Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) Consortium.
Kathy S. Wise is the associate director of the Center of Inquiry at Wabash College and the Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) Consortium.
Literature Readers May Wish to Consult
References from this article that readers may wish to consult:
Arum, R. and J. Roksa. 2011. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Dee, J.R. and C.J. Daly. 2012. “Engaging Faculty in the Process of Cultural Changes in Support of Diverse Student Populations.” In Creating Campus Cultures: Fostering Success Among Racially Diverse Student Populations, edited by S.D. Museus and U.M. Jayakumar. New York, NY: Routledge.
Flowers, L.A. and E.T. Pascarella. 2003. “Cognitive Effects of College: Differences between African American and Caucasian Students.” Research in Higher Education, 44, 21–49.
Harper, S.R. and S. Hurtado. 2007. “Nine Themes in Campus Racial Climates and Implications for Institutional Transformation.” New Directions for Student Services, 120, 7–24.
Hurtado, S., J. Milem, A. Clayton-Pederson, and W. Allen. 1998. “Enhancing Campus Climates for Racial/Ethnic Diversity: Educational Policy and Practice.” The Review of Higher Education, 21, 279–302.
Museus, S.D. 2014. “The Culturally Engaging Campus Environments (CECE) Model: A New Theory of College Student Success among Racially Diverse Student Populations. In Higher Education: A Handbook of Theory and Research, edited by M.B. Paulsen. New York, NY: Springer.