Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology and Behavioral Sciences

Abstract

Prevalence rates of lifetime exposure to trauma for college students range from 50 to 90% indicating that most college students begin the first year of college with a history of trauma. Previous studies suggest a significant negative relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and college retention; however, these studies have mainly focused on the negative effects of trauma exposure and PTSD on college students' persistence. As a result, it was unknown whether the effects of PTSD on academic achievement and college persistence can be moderated by protective factors, such as coping skills and social support. The purpose of this study was to examine moderators of the relationship between PTSD with academic achievement and college persistence. Specifically, this study explored: 1) whether PTSD symptomatology in the first term of college predicts first-year grade point average (GPA) and second-year enrollment, after controlling for high school GPA and gender, and b) whether social support and coping mechanisms (i.e., approach coping and avoidance coping) moderate the relationship between PTSD symptomatology and college outcomes (i.e., first-year cumulative GPA and second-year enrollment). A longitudinal study design was utilized with an original sample of 1,058 first-year students followed over the course of two years. The final sample included 483 trauma-exposed first-year students. Data of this study were analyzed using ordinary least squares regression and logistic regression analyses. Follow-up analyses were conducted to further explore the significant moderating effects. Results indicated that, after controlling for high school GPA and gender, PTSD symptomatology did not significantly predict first year GPA or second year enrollment. Also, the relationship between PTSD symptoms and first-year GPA was not moderated by approach coping, avoidance coping, or social support. Additionally, the relationship between PTSD symptomatology and second-year dropout was not moderated by approach or avoidance coping. On the other hand, results indicated that social support was a significant moderator of the relationship between PTSD symptomatology and second year enrollment; however, the moderating effect was in an unexpected direction, where high levels of social support strengthened the relationship between PTSD and second-year dropout.

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