An Examination of Academic Self-Esteem in Historically Black

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Volume 3, 2018 Accepted as an research article by Editor Crystal R. Chambers. │Received: May 28, 2018│ Revised: August 20, August 25, September 27, 2018 │ Accepted: September 28, 2018. Cite as: Tani, N. E., & Ray, A. T. (2018). An examination of academic self-esteem in historically black col- lege/university (HBCU) students: Considering academic performance and task difficulty. Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education, 3, 97-116. (CC BY-NC 4.0) This article is licensed to you under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. When you copy and redistribute this paper in full or in part, you need to provide proper attribution to it to ensure that others can later locate this work (and to ensure that others do not accuse you of plagiarism). You may (and we encour- age you to) adapt, remix, transform, and build upon the material for any non-commercial purposes. This license does not permit you to use this material for commercial purposes. AN EXAMINATION OF ACADEMIC SELF-ESTEEM IN HISTORICALLY BLACK COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY (HBCU) STUDENTS: CONSIDERING ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE AND TASK DIFFICULTY Novell E. Tani* Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, Tallahassee FL, USA [email protected] Akeem T. Ray Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, Tallahassee FL, USA [email protected] * Corresponding author ABSTRACT Aim/Purpose Using a sample of historically Black college/university (HBCU) students, the study examined (1) differences in academic self-esteem (ASE) levels when con- sidering students’ performance on an academic task that was either easy (low in cognitive demand) or difficult (high in cognitive demand), (2) gender differences in ASE levels, and (3) variations in academic self-concepts, given baseline gen- eral self-esteem levels, GPA, academic performance (AP), and perceptions of task difficulty. Background This study is the first to date which examines African American students' ASE differences as a result of academic performance and perceptions of task rigor. The optimal arousal theory serves as a framework for the study design; the study utilized a manipulation of the cognitive demand task condition as a means of investigating ASE. Given the mixed and limited literature on gender differ- ences in African American/HBCU subjects, gender differences were explored. Methodology Quantitative analyses of systematically-built surveys and assessments allowed for the examination of participants (n = 410 HBCU student; 303 females). Cor- relations, analyses of variance, and regression analyses were completed to ad- dress research aims. Contribution A novel approach to examining ASE variants within African American students matriculating through an HBCU context is provided. Examining Academic Self-Esteem in HBCU Students 98 Findings Students in the Low Cognitive Demand task condition displayed significantly higher levels of academic self-esteem (ASE) than High Cognitive Demand task participants; males yielded marginally higher academic self-esteem levels than females (M = 54.21, M = 51.58; p = .04); and while academic performance marginally predicted ASE levels, most of the variance was attributed to baseline self-esteem levels and subjects’ perceptions of task rigor. Recommendations for Practitioners Educational stakeholders, namely, teachers and administrators, are advised to contemplate the importance of students’ perceptions of task difficulty and fea- sibility and the possible impacts on academic self-concepts. Additionally, educa- tors may consider students’ initial self-concepts when deciding how and when to provide feedback on academic performance. Recommendation for Researchers Self-esteem levels are likely to vary as a result of other self-concepts (e.g., moti- vational, personal, and contextual factors) that were not examined. As such, the study findings provide clarity on varying ASE levels within the specific sample and should be taken with care. Impact on Society Increasing our understanding of what negatively or positively impacts academic self-esteem levels in students will further aid our ability to foster stronger scho- lastic self-concepts in the generations to come. Future Research Future research should examine ASE levels and the extent that perceptions of task rigor impact varying self-esteem levels in African American students en- rolled at more racially-heterogenous higher educational contexts (e.g., primarily White institutions, Hispanic serving institutions). Keywords academic self-esteem, perceptions of rigor, academic achievement, HBCU, col- lege students INTRODUCTION Academic success following high school can be gauged in one of two fashions: academic achieve- ment (e.g., grade point averages (GPA), test scores, enrollment, and employment) or academic at- tainment (e.g., graduation rates, retention, completion, and persistence). The present study focuses on GPA as a measure of academic performance; however, it must be noted that extant literature has established a link between the academic achievement and attainment (Gershenfeld, Hood, & Zhan, 2015). Underrepresented (African American) students’ first-semester GPA proved to impact 6-year graduation rates. According to reports provided by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES, 2017), approximately 40% of college students graduate within 4-years of starting college. Roughly 20% of African American students that began college in 2009 finished within a 4-year time span; whereas the completion rates of their Asian American (50%), European Americans (White; 44%), and Hispanic (30%) peers differ significantly. Additionally, women accounted for a large por- tion of the graduates; in comparison to 16% of Black men, 24% of Black women completed college within four years (NCES, 2017). Analyzing empirical literature spanning 13 years, researchers dis- cerned Black men as demonstrating the lowest level of academic performance and completion inter- nationally (Voyer & Voyer, 2014). As postsecondary and tertiary-leveled educators, instructors strive to foster learning environments that allow for egalitarianism; however, the research far too often highlights academic achievement gaps. Often studies report European Americans’ academic perfor- mance levels as being higher than their counterparts of other ethnic backgrounds (Brayfield, Adler, & Zablotsky, 1990; Dollinger & Clark, 2012; NCES, 2017; Steele-Johnson & Leas, 2013). While academic performance and academic success are focal points of educators in educational insti- tutions, the mental and emotional states of students are also highly regarded. Educators must contin- Tani & Ray 99 ually consider the psycho-social components that relate to academic performance. Self-esteem entails an individual’s attitude toward self, personal beliefs of self-worth, and personal feelings relative to levels of respect deserved from self and others (von Soest, Wichstrøm, & Kvalem, 2016). The Self- Esteem Model by Van Laar (2000) posits that African American college students with low academic performance develop attributes regarding academic failures that lend themselves to self-defeating internalized self-concepts. Researchers have examined the degrees to which self-esteem influences academic performance (Davis-Kean & Sandler, 2001; DeFreitas, 2012; Hoffman, Knight, & Wallach, 2007; Kling, Hyde, Showers, & Buswell, 1999; Okech & Chambers, 2012). Self-esteem and a dynamic learning environment positively predict academic performance (Hoffman et al., 2007). However, based on our review of the literature, there exists no study to date which examines the extent to which students’ self-esteem varies because of academic performance feedback and perceptions of task rigor. Ask yourself as an educator, teaching emerging adults of color, “Is it not equally im- portant that researchers examine the extent to which academic performance influences students’ self- esteem levels?” In 2004, Oates presented a longitudinal study that assessed the impact of attending high schools and colleges with higher African American enrollment and the effects on self-esteem and self-efficacy. When controlling for pre-collegiate factors, such as school demographical makeup, African American students displayed enhanced levels of self-esteem in schools comprised of higher Black enrollment (Oates, 2004). Oates indicated that, while factors like socioeconomic status and indicators of achievement impacted dimensions of self-concept, students’ placement in a college context with a higher populated African American student body had the greatest influence on African American students’ self-esteem (Oates, 2004). To this end, findings establish a significant and positive relation- ship between African American students’ self-esteem and the number of students of color at an in- stitution. The present study allows for an analysis of African American subjects matriculating through a pre- dominantly Black institution, thus less likely to experience racial stereotypes that students of color face when progressing through a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) (Fries-Britt & Turner, 2001). While the present study does not assess stereotype threat, it does examine subjects’ percep- tions of task rigor. This index of perceived difficulty offers a gauge of testing anxiety that may medi- ate the extent to which academic performance influences academic self-esteem (Tempel & Neumann, 2014). The present study is unique in that it offers a novel analysis of self-esteem variations when considering a sample of African American/Black college students distinctively seated in a learning environment which optimally lends itself to the development of positive self-concepts and academic success within students of color (Cokley, 2000, 2002; Oates, 2004) – a Historically Black Col- lege/University (HBCU). Finally, this paper provides an analysis of students’ state-self-esteem when presented with performance feedback (see Harter & Whitesell, 2003 for additional literature on trait vs. state esteem). LITERATURE REVIEW GENERAL SELF-ESTEEM (GSE) A self-concept targets a particular element of one’s self (i.e., social, emotional, academic, and physical (Kling et al., 1999; Vispoel, 1995). Researchers examine self-esteem, a self-concept where specific views of the self, be it physical, social, or personality-based self-imagery, reflect an overall sense of personal value. General self-esteem (GSE) is defined as the global attitude towards self, satisfaction with self, and one’s perceived worth when comparing self to others (Davis-Kean & Sandler, 2001). There is sparse literature surrounding self-esteem levels in African American, college-aged samples (Chapell & Overton, 2002). Meta-analyses findings stress that correlations and effect sizes range from very weak to strong values when exploring relationships between GSE and demographic fac- tors such as race, culture, socioeconomic status, age, personal experiences, and academic perfor- Examining Academic Self-Esteem in HBCU Students 100 mance (Davis-Kearn & Sandler, 2001; Kling et al., 1999). Gray-Little and Hafdahl’s (2000) meta- analysis provides a thorough review of factors that impact differences in self-esteem. Findings across the literature report higher self-esteem levels in African Americans (Black) than European Americans (White). This trend is rationalized by varying the response styles of African Americans, a group-by- item interaction favoring Black respondents, or defensive responding. Here too findings highlight variations in self-esteem levels by way of race across factors of age, racial identity levels, socioeco- nomic factors, etc. (Gray-Little & Hafdahl, 2000). In a cross-sectional analysis of African American students, Chapell and Overton (2002) found self- esteem and grades strongly related in 6th grade and college-aged students. The same association was not observed in 10th and 12th graders. While the middle and high school participants were drawn from public schools populated almost entirely by African American students, only 10% of the stu- dents that attended the public university were Black (Chapell & Overton, 2002; Cokley, 2000, 2002). Extant literature has established associations between HBCU students’ general self-esteem levels to academic performance (r = .315, p < .1) (Lockett & Harrell, 2003) and provides evidence of a bi- directional causal link (Lockett & Harrell, 2003; Stupnisky et al., 2007); however, researchers have yet to examine neither variances in self-esteem or academic, domain-specific esteem by means of actual higher or lower academic performance, performance feedback, nor students’ perceptions of anxiety (e.g., task rigor). Gender differences in self-esteem Numerous of studies have provided evidence of gender difference in scholastic achievement (see Voyer & Voyer, 2014). Baker (2015) found social support to impact African American college stu- dents’ academic performance (GPA) differently by gender, while Buddington and Haydel (2015) pro- vide evidence that factors like emotional well-being and gendered-self-concepts (e.g., “maleness”) predict HBCU students’ academic achievement in different ways. Moreover, given the graduation rates provided in the opening and considering the fact that the percentage of women enrolled at HBCUs positively predict graduation rates among HBCU students (Cheng, Suwanakul, & Wu, 2015), the sample used for the present study distinctively allows for further investigation of possible gender differences in academic-based self-esteem. While self-appraisal levels have been found to differ across demographics (Davis-Kean & Sandler, 2001; Mackinnon, Smith, & Carter-Rogers, 2015; Pull- man & Allik, 2008), extant literature notes that girls commonly display lower general self-esteem than boys (Kling et al., 1999; Josephs, Tafarodi, & Markus, 1992; von Soest et al., 2016). Kling and col- leagues’ (1999) meta-analysis, reviewing over 200 studies, found mean effect sizes which mirrored trends denoting lower levels of self-esteem in female participants in comparison to male participants. The study revealed a small overall gender effect size of = 0.21 and the authors noted gender roles as a possible source of observed gender differences in self-esteem (Kling et al., 1999). Additionally, newer research on self-actualization mirrors these finding (Okech & Chambers, 2012). Since women make up approximately 60% of HBCUs demographics, researchers must examine psy- cho-emotional factors that may relate to African Americans’ performance when matriculating through a relatively homogenous educational environment. Of the studies that have examined gender differences of self-esteem within African American/Black college students in the U.S., very few have sought to or been able to investigate gender differences due to small male sample sizes (e.g., Chapell & Overton, 2002; Hope, Chavous, Jagers, & Sellers, 2013; Lockett & Harrell, 2003). A newer study conducted by Sprecher, Brooks, and Avogo (2013) found different levels of self-esteem across racial and gendered social groups. Results indicated men as having higher self-esteem than women. Results also specified negligible gender differences in self-esteem among Black students; in comparison to the larger sample, Black women students reported higher self-esteem than Black men. The subsample of Black students displayed significantly higher self-esteem scores than the White subsample, His- panic subsample, and Asian subsample (Sprecher et al., 2013). Tani & Ray 101 Considering the literature discussed, current studies findings do not lend themselves to answering the question “How is self-esteem likely to vary between African American men and women attending a historically black college?” Being able to capture possible gender differences in the academic, do- main-specific area of self-esteem allows the present study to address a longstanding gap that exists within higher education research. Understanding gender differences in self-esteem, considering the broader context of higher learning and given the academic performance differences that may exist when comparing men and women from different demographic backgrounds, particularly at HBCUs, remains paramount for understanding the role of the intersections of race, gender, and academic performance. ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE (AP) Academic performance is indicative of one’s ability to perform on cognitive task(s) and reach certain academic goals. Several studies note self-esteem as relating to academic performance (Gebauer et al., 2015; Josephs et al., 1992; Kling et al., 1999; von Soest et al., 2016). Minoritized students, namely Af- rican American students, experience reduced self-esteem and lower levels of academic performance when experiencing scenarios of stereotypes, stereotype threat, and negative generalizations (Steele & Aronson, 1995; Tempel & Neumann, 2014; Thames et al., 2014). Examining African American (AA) (n=45) and European American college students (n=47), Thames and colleagues (2014) found stere- otype threat, perceived discrimination, and examiner race to negatively influence neuropsychological performances (NP) and cognitive performances (e.g., memory) in African American students more so than European American students. However, African American students are reportedly more like- ly to view their academic outcomes as based on preexisting knowledge or skill (e.g., to make internal attributions), more so than their White counterpart (Aruguete & Hardy, 2016). These findings under- score the importance of contextual factors, namely institutional demographics, and cognitive-based outcomes. They also suggest a need to examine further the degree that external attributions influence self-esteem. There exists an adaptive connection between achievement over time, students’ self-esteem levels, and academic achievement profiles. In a study which examined African American, freshman college stu- dents attending three large PWIs (n = 324), Hope and colleagues (2013) found links between stu- dents’ general self-esteem, academic achievement (GPA), and academic identification profiles. Stu- dents with higher high school grade point averages yielded higher self-esteem levels; those lower high school GPAs showed significantly lower levels of self-esteem. Students’ initial academic contingen- cies of self-worth, or the extent to which they felt their self-esteem varied by actual achievement, moderately correlated with end of year college academic performance (GPA). However, concepts of academic worth captured at the end of the school year did not prove to associate with actual colle- giate performance. There continued to be a negative association between general self-esteem and academic contingencies of self-worth (Hope et al., 2013). While students’ initial self-esteem levels did not relate to cumulative freshman GPA, end of year self-esteem proved to be positively associated. Variations in students’ academic identification clusters (self-esteem by performance) varied based on levels of anxiety, perceived stress, and other psychological symptoms observed (Hope et al., 2013). BAROMETRIC ACADEMIC SELF-ESTEEM (ASE) Studies have established that African American college students tend to hold higher academic self- concept and self-esteem levels depending on the racial/ethnic composition of their institution (Cokley 2000, 2002; Oates, 2004), with higher self-concepts observed when students attend schools with a high population of students of color. Yet, academic self-esteem (ASE) is one’s evaluation of how he/she feels about one’s cognitive abilities and academic performance. ASE is also defined as “one’s attitudes towards the learning process, a sense of direction, and self-expectations for academic performance” (Lipnevich, 2006). According to Kernis, Grannemann, and Barclay (1989), barometric self-esteem is defined as rapid, short-term fluctuations of self-esteem; the present study seeks to ex- Examining Academic Self-Esteem in HBCU Students 102 amine barometric academic self-esteem – defined as short-term fluctuations of ASE. Literature examin- ing adolescent students’ state academic self-esteem levels show variations based on real-time feed- back on graded assignments (Hartner & Whiteesell, 2003); however, there exists no such literature for Black students at HBCUs. Academic self-esteem is often measured using general self-esteem instru- ments that have been revised to incorporate new measures of academic self-esteem. Examples of these tests include the revised Feelings of Inadequacy Scale (Janis & Field, 1959) and the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965). Scales possess items where participants respond to academ- ic/cognitive based questions such as, “Are your skills weaker than other people in this class?” and “Do you believe you are as smart as most people?” (Rosenberg, 1965). These differ from the Aca- demic self-concept scales that are typically used to cover a larger gambit of academic-based self- concepts (e.g., efficacy, confidence, school-satisfaction, and self-doubt) (Cokley, 2000, 2002). General self-esteem, grade point average (GPA), and academic self-esteem It is essential to identify key factors and variables that are pivotal in understanding African Ameri- cans’ academic self-esteem levels. Studies conducted examining ASE and variations of ASE highlight the existing relationship between (global) self-esteem and academic performance (Dollinger & Clark, 2012; Steele-Johnson, & Leas, 2013). In the existing literature, ASE levels have been shown to aid in predicting whether or not certain racial groups have higher or lower levels of academic performance. Studies tend to denote African American subjects as having lower academic performance levels (Brayfield et al., 1990; Dollinger & Clark, 2012; Steele-Johnson & Leas, 2013). A majority of studies that examine ASE focus primarily, or solely, on investigating the GSE and academic performance levels of White subjects. Academic performance and ASE Academic achievement has been established as a strong predictor of students’ academic self-esteem, particularly in students with low academic achievement (Hope et al., 2013; Pullman & Allik, 2008). Participants that utilized self-protective enhancement (motivation to maintain, elevate, and protect positive aspects of one’s self-concept) and defensive pessimism (concept that high-performing and highly anxious individuals become accustomed to accomplishing success by increasing the fear of failure; Lim, 2009) displayed higher self-esteem or higher academic performance, respectively (Pull- man & Allik, 2008). Pullman and Allik’s (2008) and Mackinnon and colleagues’ (2015) studies dis- played strong links between ASE levels, general self-esteem levels, GPA scores, academic assessment measures, and academic/self-esteem scales. In both studies, students who performed well on difficult tasks displayed higher levels of GSE and ASE There were positive correlations between high aca- demic performance and high general self-esteem in the aforementioned studies (Pullman & Allik, 2008; Mackinnon et al., 2015). While the studies provide evidence of links between GSE, ASE, and academic performance, they both utilize international samples. The cultural environments are not exactly transferable to African American/Black students learning higher educational contexts set in the U.S. The Pullman and Allik (2008) sample examined K-12 and collegiate level in Estonian- speaking institutions; the authors did not provide unique racial or ethnic characteristics. While Mackinnon et al. (2015) did not report participants’ racial/ethnic demographics, the authors outlined that a bulk of the study’s undergraduate samples were born in Canada (roughly 75%), Asia (approxi- mately ten percent), and Africa (roughly three percent). PERCEPTIONS OF TASK DIFFICULTY The amount of arousal or anxiety caused by completing a cognitive task is likely to influence both test performance and self-evaluations following task completion. When taking a test, heightened anx- iety levels positively or negatively impact test performance (Teigen, 1994). The perceived difficulty of the task, when coupled with test-taker anxiety, can also have polarizing effects on test performance. The Yerkes-Dodson Law explains that test performance reaches an optimal level or peak as the indi- vidual assessed reaches a point of arousal that is neither too high nor too low (also referred to as the Tani & Ray 103 Optimal Arousal Theory; Yerkes & Dodson, 1908). After an optimal level of arousal is reached, a reduction in performance is likely to occur if sensations of anxiety continue to increase (Broadhurst, 1957; Teigen, 1994). Participants are likely to experience different levels of anxiety based on task dif- ficulty level (design) and personal perceptions of task difficulty. Subsequently, academic performance and ASE scores are expected to differ. African American students’ perception of task rigor serves as an indicator of an external factor that has been shown to impact academic performance, self-esteem, and anxiety levels (Aruguete & Hardy, 2016; Ross & Broh, 2000; Stupnisky et al., 2007). Aruguete and Hardy (2016) opined that “Poor grades, combined with internal attributions and low expecta- tions for success, may contribute to a negative emotional state among African American students” (p. 263). Considering the Optimal Arousal Theory, it was anticipated that students in the low cognitive de- mand task (LCDT) condition would experience lower arousal and perhaps pay less attention to the task. Participants that perform poorly on a task considered to be “easy” are expected to demonstrate lower levels of self-esteem. Crocker and Wolfe (2001) found that individuals engaged in tasks of ri- gor reverted to self-protective self-evaluations to compensate for weakness in achievement. Further, researchers posit that difficult tasks increase the likelihood of students reverting to compensatory behaviors of inflating academic self-esteem (Crocker & Wolfe, 2001). To this end, the congruent ac- ademic identification clusters (high self-esteem/high achievers and low self-esteem/low achievers) as well as the incongruent dis-identification clusters (high self-esteem/ low achievers and low self- esteem/high achievers) observed in Hope et al. (2013) provides rationalization for subsequent hy- potheses of varying academic self-esteem levels by way of designed task rigor and students’ academic performance. RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND HYPOTHESES The aims of this study were twofold: first, to determine if there were significant differences in mean barometric academic self-esteem (ASE) scores when considering academic performance (AP) and the designed task difficulty level (RQ1a); additionally, to assess for any noticeable gender differences in mean barometric ASE scores (RQ1b). Given trends surrounding arousal and perceptions of task difficulty (Hope et al., 2013), (H1) ASE levels were expected to differ between the two experimental groups (task difficulty levels) such that individuals completing the more difficult task would exhibit higher arousal levels, indicated by higher subject ratings of the task being challenging. Subsequently, these individuals would also display higher academic esteem than those completing the more man- ageable task. Since participants were provided accuracy feedback in the form of raw scores, then asked to calculate percentage scores, it was hypothesized that (H2) academic performance would drive ASE levels with lower performing individuals having lower ASE than higher-performing partic- ipants. When considering the cognitive demand required of the task(s), based on the designed task rigor-level and possible performance levels (low or high performers, based on mean the split), it was hypothesized a trend (H3) whereby ASE levels would differ with: LCDT low performers ≤ HCDT low performers ≤ LCDT high performers ≤ HCDT high performers. In examining possible gender differences between the African American students assessed, (H4) researchers expected women to have equal or higher levels of ASE when compared to men. The aforementioned trend was anticipated to persist in participants, regardless of gender (H5). Analyses also examined if and to what extent barometric ASE levels varied based on GSE, GPA, subjects’ perceptions of task difficulty, gender, and academic performance (AP) scores (RQ2). While it was expected general self-esteem and GPA to impact ASE in a significant and positive manner (H6), with higher scores in each yielding higher ASE scores, ASE scores were anticipated to vary in- directly with students’ perceptions of task difficulty; students that perceive the tasks as more difficult were expected to have lower levels of ASE (H7). ASE levels were anticipated to vary significantly between men and women, such that women would have higher levels of esteem than men (H8). The primary aim of this study was to examine the extent to which academic performance (AP) influenced Examining Academic Self-Esteem in HBCU Students 104 variance in ASE scores. When considering all variables assessed (H9), it was hypothesized that AP would account for a large portion of the variance in ASE scores. Moreover, students with higher per- formance levels were expected to have higher ASE scores. METHODOLOGY PROCEDURES Before conducting the research, all components of the present study were approved by the Universi- ty’s Institutional Review Board. The researchers sent invitations to professors in the psychology, so- ciology, and criminal justice departments to assist in the solicitation of participants for the research. Participating instructors were provided a link that they then emailed to students and posted on their respective blackboard hubs, allowing potential participants to complete the study at their leisure. The web-link directed participants to the online study – developed using the Qualtrics assessment soft- ware. Data were collected within the first two months of the fall 2016 semester; students were al- lowed to complete assessment metrics in one sitting. Professors were encouraged to offer no more than 1% extra credit for completion. The researchers did not record if completion of the survey was a requirement, as a part of course extra credit, or voluntary. PARTICIPANTS All respondents were from a public HBCU in the southwestern region of the United States. Subjects for this study were gathered using a convenient sample. There were 468 student attempts of the online surveys assessments during the data collection window. After incomplete responses were re- moved, the final sample included 410 participants (107 self-identified as men, 303 as women). All participants self-identified racially as Black, with various composites of ethnicities. Participants’ age ranged between 18 and 30 (M = 21; SD = 2.33 years). Students varied in collegiate classifications; 58 freshmen, 73 sophomores, 142 juniors, and 137 seniors completed the survey and assessment measures. The self-reported GPA of participants ranged from 0.5 to 4.0, M = 2.89 (SD = .61). MEASURES This study utilized an online survey/assessment henceforth referred to as the Academic Performance and Academic Self-Esteem Survey. The survey included demographic questions, a general self-esteem measure, one of two equally and randomly assigned cognitive tasks, and an academic self-esteem measure. Tasks were administered in the aforementioned order. Demographic information Relevant to the present study, the demographic questionnaire allowed for the collection of self- reported information on participants’ age, gender, racial and ethnic self-identification, classification, and cumulative grade point average. While the utilization of self-reported GPA may be considered a typical methodological limitation, this study uses student provided data as analyses in various educa- tional contexts have found relatively high accuracy in respondent provided GPA and official grade point averages provided by institutions (see Caskie, Sutton, & Eckhardt, 2014; Sticca et al., 2017). General self-esteem scale The general self-esteem scale measured participants’ baseline self-esteem levels. The general self- esteem measure was developed using the Janis and Field’s Feelings of Inadequacy assessment (1959). Participants responded to 30 questions (α = 0.83) using a five-point Likert-scale with selections of: Never to Always; or Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree. Coding allowed for several items to be re- verse coded such that a possible minimum score of 0 indicated low GSE and a maximum possible score of 120 indicated high GSE. The general self-esteem measure includes items such as: “How Tani & Ray 105 confident do you feel that someday the people you know will look up to you and respect you?” and “Have you ever felt ashamed of your physique or figure?” Cognitive demand task The Qualtrics online survey system allowed participants to be equally and randomly presented with one of the two 24 item cognitive tasks that were developed for the study: the Low Cognitive De- mand Tasks (LCDT) and the High Cognitive Demand Task (HCDT). Questions on the low cognitive demand task were pooled from basic questions asked on 4th, 5th, and 6th-grade examinations for U.S. students. Questions on the high cognitive demand task were pooled from 11th and 12th-grade exams given to normally functioning U.S. students (Charles et al., 2014; Holt McDougal, 2012, 2014; McGraw-Hill Education, 2011; Spielvogel, 2012). Cronbach’s alpha for low and high demand tasks were .77 and .54 (corrected α), respectively. Participants were presented with one – of four – sub- section at a time. Participants answered academic questions in four areas of cognition: Reading & Grammar, History & Social Sciences, Mathematics & Geometry, and Science. Each sub-section of the Cognitive Demand Task asked five questions to assess academic performance. Participants re- ceived one point per correct response and no points for incorrect responses. The possible academic performance (AP) scores range spans a range of 0 to 20 points. Note: After completing the cognitive demand task, students were shown raw score (i.e., 15/20) and then asked to calculate percentage scores; this allowed the typical format of feedback received for academic assignments (percentile score) to become more salient as student participants completed the Academic Self-Esteem Scale. Perception of difficulty After completing each sub-section of the CDT, an additional Likert-scale question, “How difficult did you find the preceding sections’ questions to be?”, gauged participant perception of task rigor; selection options range from Very Easy (1) to Very Difficult (5). This self-reported cognitive de- mand/level of difficulty score allows insight into perceived difficulty levels (PDL) and ranged from 4-20 points (4, representing perceptions of the task being “very easy;” 20, representing perceptions of the task being “very difficult”; α = .85 and α = .75, with respect to PDL for low and high cogni- tive demand tasks). Academic self-esteem scale The Academic Self-Esteem Scale in the present study used items adapted from the Feelings of Inad- equacy Scale and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Janis & Field, 1959; Rosenberg, 1965). The meas- ure pooled items that assess academic and scholastic self-esteem (i.e., “How often do you have trou- ble understanding things you read for class assignments?”; and “Are your skills weaker than other people in your classes?”). The 20-item scale was coded in a way such that lower scores indicated low- er academic self-esteem and higher scores indicated higher academic self-esteem (α = .89). Scores for the academic self-esteem scale range from 0 to 80, respectively denoting low to high scholastic self- esteem. STATISTICAL ANALYSES Pearson’s correlations and several ANOVA tests were completed to compare the means of partici- pant’s academic self-esteem based on task difficulty levels, performance levels (high or low perform- ers given mean split calculations), and gender. In addressing the second research question, a multiple regression analysis was conducted to evaluate the extent to which academic performance, and other independent variables, impacted the variance in ASE scores. Examining Academic Self-Esteem in HBCU Students 106 RESULTS DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS General self-esteem scores ranged from 31 to 106 (M = 72.59, SD = 13.57) indicating that on aver- age, participant levels of GSE fell slightly above the median score; descriptive statistics provided in Table 1. There was an average academic performance of 77% with a standard deviation of 17%. Up- on further review, the 203 participants randomly presented with the lower demand task demonstrated an average performance accuracy of 89.36% (M=17.87, SD = 2.36); LCDT scores were non-normal distributed, with a skewness of -1.84 (SE = .17) and kurtosis of 3.66 (SE = .34; a significant portion of these participants performed at the top 25th percentile). The 207 participants administered the HCDT demonstrated an average performance accuracy of 65.9% (M = 13.18, SD = 2.69); HCDT scores were normally distributed. Perceived difficulty levels (PDL) for the LCDT indicate that re- spondents felt the task was “easy” (M = 7.86, SD = 3.12); PDL for those that completed the HCDT indicate that, on average, these participants felt the task was “neither easy nor difficult,” (M = 12.25, SD = 2.94). Academic self-esteem scores ranged from 18 to 79 (M = 52.26, SD = 11.38) and were normally distributed; on average, men held higher ASE scores (M = 54.21, SD = 12.72) than women (M = 51.58, SD = 10.80). Table 1. Descriptive Statistics M SD Min. Max. Skewness Kurtosis SE SE Academic Self-Esteem 52.26 11.38 18 79 0.05 0.12 -0.47 0.24 General Self-Esteem 72.59 13.58 31 106 -0.26 0.12 -0.20 0.24 Grade Point Average 2.90 0.61 0.5 4 -0.96 0.12 3.05 0.24 Academic Performance (%) 0.78 0.17 0.25 1 -0.44 0.12 -0.89 0.24 Cognitive Demand Task 0.50 0.50 0 1 -0.02 0.12 -2.01 0.24 Perception of Difficulty 10.08 3.74 4 20 0.20 0.12 -0.48 0.24 Gender of Participant 0.26 0.44 0 1 1.09 0.12 -0.81 0.24 Note: n = 410. BIVARIATE CORRELATIONAL ANALYSES Pearson’s correlations were computed for variables of interest, provided in Table 2. The main varia- ble of interest, academic self-esteem (ASE), was found to be significantly related to all other varia- bles. Significant relationships between GSE and ASE (r = .66, p < .001) indicate a strong positive correlation. Grade point average and academic self-esteem scores show a negligible, positive correla- tion (r = .10, p = .04). As performance scores on developed cognitive demand tasks increased, so did levels of academic self-esteem (r = .30, p < .001). Cognitive demand task level, low versus high (dummy coded 0 and 1, respectively), was found to associate negatively with academic self-esteem; higher demand conditioned participants typically yielded lower ASE scores (r = -.15, p = .003). There were inverse relationships between subjects’ perceptions of task difficulty and ASE. Overall (r = -.29, p < .001), the ASE scores were typically lower for participants that found the academic task more challenging; the same is true regarding perceptions surrounding low and high cognitive demand tasks (r = -.29, p < .001; r = -.21, p < .001, respectively). The marginally significant positive correlation for gender and academic self-esteem denotes relatively higher ASE levels in men (1) in comparison to women (0). Tani & Ray 107 Table 2. Pearson's Zero Ordered Correlations for Variables of Interest 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1. Academic Self-Esteem 0.66** 0.10* .30** -0.15** -0.29** 0.10* 2. General Self-Esteem 0.02 0.19* -0.07 -0.12* 0.10* 3. Grade Point Average 0.01 0.06 -0.05 -0.05 4. Academic Performance (%) -0.68** -0.60** 0.06 5. Cognitive Demand Task Level 0.59** -0.12* 6. Perception of Difficulty -0.15** 7. Gender Note: n = 410. Cognitive Demand Task Level coded as 0 = low cognitive demand task and 1= high cognitive demand task. Gender coded for 0 = women and 1 = men. * = p < .05, ** = p < .01 FACTORIAL ANOVA MEAN COMPARISONS BY ASE Between academic performance and task difficulty Barometric academic self-esteem (ASE) scores differed when considering the designed difficulty lev- els of the cognitive tasks and students’ academic performance (AP) levels, as presented in Table 3. Students that completed the Low Cognitive Demand Task had significantly higher levels of ASE than students that completed the HCDT (mean difference of 3.34, p =.003) (H1); thus, rejecting the first hypothesis. As hypothesized, low performers had significantly lower ASE levels than high per- formers, regardless of designed task difficulty level (mean difference of 4.68, p < .01) (H2). To examine differences in ASE when considering both task difficulty and students’ actual perfor- mance, ANOVA comparison models revealed several findings. On average, the students that com- pleted that the Low Cognitive Demand Task and performed well (above the mean) displayed higher levels of academic self-esteem than students performing below par on the High Cognitive Demand Task (mean difference of 6.70, d = .63, p < .001). Another comparison revealed significantly lower levels of mean ASE in High Cognitive Demand low performing students (M = 48.23) than High Cognitive Demand Task high performing students (M = 53.31; mean difference of 5.08, d = .47, p < .001). When considering the designed difficulty level of the task and students’ actual performance on the developed academic task, results indicate a trend where the academic self-esteem levels in the given sample differ accordingly: High Cognitive Demand Task low performers ≤ Low Cognitive Demand Task low performers ≤ High Cognitive Demand Task high performers ≤ Low Cognitive Demand Task high performers. These results partially confirm the third hypothesis. It was hypothesized that the comparisons be- tween task difficulty level and performance combinations would drive any observed difference in mean academic self-esteem, such that Low Cognitive Demand Task low performers ≤ High Cognitive Demand Task low performers ≤ Low Cognitive Demand Task high performers ≤ High Cognitive Demand Task high per- formers. Results confirmed that lower levels of ASE were observed in lower performing students. It was anticipated that performing well on a more difficult task would lead to higher levels of self- esteem; however, results indicate ASE to be lower in students that completed the more difficult task. Between gender Comparisons of mean ASE scores based on task demand level, performance level, and gender, re- vealed significantly lower levels of academic self-esteem in women, of the given sample: mean differ- ence of 2.63, d = .22, p < .05 (see Table 3). African American women were projected to have equal or higher levels of GSE when compared to African American men; based on results obtained, the null hypothesis is rejected (H4). Examining Academic Self-Esteem in HBCU Students 108 Further analysis revealed that trends for men and women mirrored that of the overall sample (con- firming the hypothesis H5). For men in the sample: High Cognitive Demand Task low performer ASE scores, M = 48.58 (SD = 10.87) < Low Cognitive Demand Task low performer ASE scores, M = 53.00 (SD = 12.84) < High Cognitive Demand Task high performer ASE scores, M = 56.37 (SD = 16.48) < Low Cognitive Demand Task high performer ASE scores, M = 56.72 (SD = 11.32). Table 3. Comparisons of Mean Academic Self-Esteem Scores Task Demand and Per- formance Level ASE SD Mean Diff. Effect Size Cohen’s d n Low Cognitive Demand Task (LCDT) 53.95 11.39 203 High Cognitive De- mand Task (HCDT) 50.61 11.14 -3.34 0.147 0.296 207 Low Performers 49.58 10.63 175 High Performers 54.26 11.52 -4.68 -0.206 -0.422 235 LCDT Low Performer 51.88 11.35 65 LCDT High Performer 54.93 11.32 -3.05 -0.133 -0.269 138 HCDT Low Performer 48.23 9.99 3.65 0.168 0.341 110 HCDT High Performer 53.31 11.79 -1.43 -0.062 -0.123 97 LCDT High Performer 54.93 11.32 138 LCDT Low Performer 51.88 11.35 3.05 0.133 0.269 65 HCDT Low Performer 48.23 9.99 6.7 0.299 0.628 110 HCDT High Performer 53.31 11.79 1.62 0.069 0.14 97 HCDT Low Performer 48.23 9.99 110 LCDT Low Performer 51.88 11.35 -3.65 -0.168 -0.341 65 LCDT High Performer 54.93 11.32 -6.7 -0.299 0.628 138 HCDT High Performer 53.31 11.79 -5.08 -0.226 -0.465 97 HCDT High Performer 53.31 11.79 97 LCDT Low Performer 51.88 11.35 1.43 0.062 0.123 65 LCDT High Performer 54.93 11.32 -1.62 -0.133 -0.269 138 HCDT Low Performer 48.23 9.99 5.08 0.226 0.465 65 Men 54.21 12.72 107 Women 51.58 10.8 2.63 0.111 0.222 303 Note: total n = 410. ASE = mean academic self-esteem. In women, the trend persisted: High Cognitive Demand Task low performer ASE scores, M = 48.13 (SD = 9.79) < Low Cognitive Demand Task low performer ASE scores, M = 51.45 (SD = 10.84) < High Cognitive Demand Task high performer ASE scores, M = 52.56 (SD = 10.34) < Low Cognitive Demand Task high performer ASE scores, M = 54.03 (SD = 11.37) Future research may allow for further, more in-depth, analysis of gender differences. Tani & Ray 109 ASE AS PREDICTED BY FACTORS ASSESSED The second major objective of the study was to determine if academic self-esteem (ASE) levels var- ied subsequent to participants’ academic performance (AP). A listwise regression analysis; Ŷ = B1Academic Performance1+B2 General self-esteem2 +B3Perceived difficulty3+B4GPA4+B5Gender5+B0; allowed us to determine if academic self-esteem varied based on proceeding academic performance or other assessed independent variables (see Table 4). The linear combination of predictors proved significant R² = .497, F (5,404) = 79.71, p < .01, with exception to gender (p = .76). When considering other factors, ASE levels did not vary significantly by gender; thus, rejecting the hypothesis related to gen- der as an anticipated predictor (H8). A second multiple stepwise regression without gender as a pre- dictor variable was analyzed (see Table 4); Ŷ = B1Academic Performance1+B2General self- esteem2+B3Perceived difficulty3+B4GPA4+B0. The linear combination of predictors for this model proved significant to variances in ASE, R² = .496, F (4,405) = 99.83, p < .01. Beta coefficients revealed a positive relationship whereby higher GSE (β = 0.53, p < .01) and higher self-reported grade point averages (β = 1.41, p <.05) were indicative of higher academic self-esteem levels; findings confirm our hypothesis H6. Negative beta coefficients for perceived difficulty levels (β = -.48, p < .01) con- firm the hypothesis H7; when controlling for other assessed factors, ASE levels varied in a negative fashion as participants’ perceptions of task difficulty increased. Academic self-esteem varied signifi- cantly and positively based on subjects’ academic performance (β = 6.03, p < .05); based on the re- sults the null hypothesis is accepted (H9). Table 4. Regression Models for Academic Self-Esteem as Predicted by Variables of Interest Variable B Std. Error Beta t p-value (Model I- listwise results) Constant 10.07 4.27 2.36 0.019 General Self-esteem 0.52 0.03 0.62 17.32 0.000 Academic Performance 6.08 2.94 0.09 2.07 0.039 Perception of Difficulty -0.47 0.13 -0.15 -3.48 0.001 Grade Point Average 1.43 0.66 0.08 2.17 0.031 Gender 0.29 0.93 0.01 0.312 0.756 (Model II - stepwise results) Constant 10.21 4.24 2.41 0.016 GSE 0.53 0.3 0.63 17.45 0.000 Academic Performance 6.03 2.93 0.09 2.06 0.040 Perception of Difficulty -0.48 0.13 -0.16 -3.57 0.000 Grade Point Average 1.41 0.66 0.08 2.16 0.032 Note: n = 410. Using this second regression, R-squared and R-squared change values allowed us to examine the amount of variability accounted for by adding each independent variable. While the full model ac- counts for roughly half of the variability seen in ASE scores among participants, baseline general self-esteem values accounted for a majority (44%) of the variance explained. R-squared change values denote subjects’ perceptions of task difficulty as being the next influential variable (Δ R² = .045; p < .01); PDL accounted for an additional 4.5% of variability in ASE in the given sample. Adding self- reported GPA (Δ R² = .006; p < .05) and academic performance (AP; Δ R² = .005; p < .05) marginal- ly impacted changes in ASE scores. Examining Academic Self-Esteem in HBCU Students 110 DISCUSSION The primary focus of this study was to examine if students’ academic self-esteem levels varied based on their performance on an academic task (e.g., easy vs. difficult cognitive task) and to determine if traditional trends of gender differences in esteem proved evident in a sample of Back/HBCU stu- dents. Results indicate that academic self-esteem (ASE) scores differ based on both the design, task cognitive demand level and students’ academic performance. Results also indicate the importance of students’ feelings towards task difficulty, actual performance on an assessment, and subsequent self- esteem. All participants were informed of their academic performance scores prior to completing the academic self-esteem measure. Stu...