Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

Clinical Psychology, PhD

Committee Chair

Lewine, Richard

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Walter, Bernadette

Committee Member

Walter, Bernadette

Committee Member

Newton, Tamara

Committee Member

Rosen, Paul

Committee Member

Cash, Elizabeth

Author's Keywords

education; psychology; trauma; PTSD; college student; resiliency


A large number of the nearly 20 million students who were attending American colleges in 2015 will not graduate. One factor that may affect the success of students is the influence of past experiences, including past adversity, or exposure to traumatic or non-traumatic stressors. The present study sought to better describe and understand the role of stress/trauma history in college students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The potential relationship this history has with academic outcomes was explored. Additionally, as not all students with a history of stressful and traumatic life events struggle academically, self-reported resilience, as well as resiliency factors, were included in analyses to determine the potential role these variables may have. Self-reported history of stressful/traumatic life events, resilience, and various demographic factors was collected at college orientation for a group of students (N = 54) with low socioeconomic backgrounds (family income below 150% of the poverty level). Academic record information was collected at the end of the first semester. Overall, the present sample was similar to other college students in terms of event exposure (93% total, 57% traumatic), as well as mental health symptoms and self-reported resilience and resiliency factors. Resiliency variables were correlated with one another, but not with event vi exposure or academic outcomes. Total event exposure was significantly correlated with fall course withdrawals, and for each event reported, a student was 24% more likely to withdraw from a course. Exploratory regressions examining event exposure weighted by perceived effect on life predicting fall GPA and fall D/F grades revealed that this accounted for 14% and 11% of the variance, respectively. Including one potential resiliency factor in the regression model did not improve the model in a hierarchical regression. This research has implications for educators, mental health professionals, and college administrators.