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

Mitchell, Amanda

Committee Member

Salmon, Paul

Author's Keywords

Coping flexibility; academic resilience; low-SES college students; poverty; academic achievement; coping behavior


College students coming from a background of poverty may experience academic impairment due to their experiences of chronic economic adversity. However, despite the stressors associated with poverty and the potential deleterious consequences of this form of adversity, many low-socioeconomic status (low-SES) college students show high academic achievement. One predictor of resilient outcomes that has been studied outside of academic contexts is coping flexibility, the ability to use a range of different coping behaviors to meet the demands of different stressful situations. Coping flexibility has been found to be positively associated with psychological adjustment in a variety of populations, yet it has not been studied as a predictor of academic outcomes, particularly for college students who come from a background of poverty. The present study was undertaken with two primary aims: 1) to explore if coping flexibility was associated with academic resilience among low-SES college students, and 2) to further explore facets of coping flexibility to determine if each of the particular facets were significant predictors of academic outcomes for low-SES college students. The study used secondary data analyses and was exploratory in nature. It was hypothesized that greater coping flexibility would be associated with academically vii resilient outcomes and that each of the facets of coping flexibility would be significant predictors of higher academic achievement. The sample consisted of low-SES college students (N = 54) at a large public research university who had an annual household income at or below 150% of the federal poverty line. Baseline data were collected at the beginning of the students’ first year in college and academic outcome data [i.e., cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA)] were collected for eight semesters over the course of four years. Participants were categorized into different groups using hierarchical cluster analysis based on their scores on proxy measures of coping flexibility, including a measure of rumination as a proxy measure of emotion-focused coping and a measure of academic perseverance as a proxy measure of problem-focused coping. The sample was also split into two groups based on academic outcome data, including one group that showed academically resilient outcomes (i.e., maintaining a semester GPA of 3.0 or higher across all semesters) and one group that did not show academically resilient outcomes. The hypotheses were tested using a Fisher-Freeman-Halton Exact Test and Pearson bivariate correlations. Five coping flexibility groups were found in the sample, including (a) a high coping flexibility group, (b) a moderate coping flexibility group with higher problem-focused coping, (c) a moderate coping flexibility group with higher emotion-focused coping, (d) a high problem-focused coping group, and (e) a moderate problem-focused coping group. The results from the statistical analyses showed that coping flexibility group was not significantly associated with an increased likelihood of being in the group showing academically resilient outcomes. It was also found that none of the facets of coping flexibility were significant predictors of last semester GPA. The findings taken viii together showed that coping flexibility as measured in this study was not a significant predictor of academically resilient outcomes or academic achievement in the sample of low-SES college students. Although prior research has shown that coping flexibility is associated with psychological adjustment, it may be the case that flexibility is not as conducive to academic performance, particularly for low-SES college students. Some study limitations likely influenced the findings, warranting caution in making strong conclusions. Future research should further explore factors that promote positive academic outcomes for low-SES college students in order to help them achieve their full academic potential.