Title Page
 Table of Contents
 List of Tables
 Review of the literature
 Design of the study
 Results of analysis
 Discussion and interpretation of...
 Biographical sketch

Group Title: effects of traditional and nonpunitive grading systems upon the academic progress of community college students /
Title: The effects of traditional and nonpunitive grading systems upon the academic progress of community college students /
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00098144/00001
 Material Information
Title: The effects of traditional and nonpunitive grading systems upon the academic progress of community college students /
Physical Description: vii, 56 leaves : ; 28cm.
Language: English
Creator: Johnston, Hugh Alan, 1939-
Donor: unknown ( endowment )
Publication Date: 1975
Copyright Date: 1975
Subject: Grading and marking (Students)   ( lcsh )
Academic achievement   ( lcsh )
Community colleges -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Foundations of Education thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Foundations of Education -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 52-55.
Statement of Responsibility: by Hugh Alan Johnston.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00098144
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000162787
oclc - 02720464
notis - AAS9136


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Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page i
        Page i-a
        Page ii
    Table of Contents
        Page iii
        Page iv
    List of Tables
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
    Review of the literature
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
    Design of the study
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
    Results of analysis
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
    Discussion and interpretation of results
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
    Biographical sketch
        Page 56
        Page 57
Full Text








3 1262 08552 7744


To my supervisory doctoral committee, Dr. Hannalore

Wass, Dr. Vynce Hines, Dr. Richard Anderson and Dr. Donald

Avila, my sincere gratitude is extended for their personal

efforts and influence upon my research.

In addition, a personal indebtedness is felt toward Dr.

Avila, my chairman, whose understanding and counsel were

instrumental, not only in the completion of this study, but

in my entire program at the University of Florida.

Special appreciation is also felt toward my wife, Jan,

for encouragement, and toward my parents, Hugh and Annette,

whose endless patience through years of academic strife

provided the opportunities which were essential to my even-

tual success.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS . . . . . . . . . ii

LIST OF TABLES . . . . . . . .. . v

ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . vi


I. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . 1

Purpose of the Study. .. . . . ... 2

Definitions . . . . . . . . 3

Need for the Study . . . . . . . 5


Grading Trends in Higher Education . . . 8

Low Performing Students Under
Academic Threat .... . . . .. 15

III. DESIGN OF THE STUDY. .. . . . .. 29

Overall Design of the Study . . . .. 29

Hypotheses . . . . . . ... . . 29

Sample . . . . . . . . .. 31

Selection Procedures . . . . . ... 32

Data Analysis . . . . . . ... 34

IV. RESULTS OF ANALYSIS . . . . . ... 36

The Hypotheses Investigated . . . .. 36

Additional Findings .. . . . ... 39


Primary Results . . . . . . ... 42

Additional Discussion . . . . ... 43

Suggestions for Further Research . . .. 45

Conclusions . . . . . . . . 48


A. Observed and Expected Frequencies of
Low Performing Graduates and
Nongraduates. . . . . . .. .50

B. Contrasted Differences Among Means
by Type and Level . . . . . .. .51

REFERENCES . . . . . . . ... . .52

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . . ... .56



1 Frequencies of Low Performing Graduates
and Nongraduates . . . . . . . . 37

2 Grade Point Averages by Type, School
and Level . . . . . .. . . . 38

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council of
the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



H. Alan Johnston

December, 1975

Chairman: Donald L. Avila
Major Department: Foundations of Education

This study compares two systems of community college

academic regulations. Its purpose was to determine whether

or not one of these systems more effectively answers the

unique needs of community college students.

The subjects were selected from four Florida community

colleges, chosen for their divergent academic systems. Two

of these were classified as traditional and two as nonpuni-

tive. The nonpunitive institutions had been using pass/no-fail

grading systems for a number of years, which operated with

neither failing grades nor academic suspension.

The academic progress of 750 incoming students was traced

over a four-year period. These were all recent high school

graduates who enrolled in their respective community colleges

as freshmen for the 1970-71 academic year. For purposes of

this study, they were further classified as high and low

performing on the basis of their scores earned on the Florida

Twelfth Grade Placement Test.

Academic progress of traditional and nonpunitive subjects

was assessed in terms of perseverance while at the community

college institution. Two hypotheses were designed and tested

in a comparison of this progress.

Hypothesis 1 focused upon the different proportion of

low-performing students who graduated from traditional and

nonpunitive community colleges. A chi square test indicated

that, under nonpunitive regulations, these students had a

significantly greater chance of graduating (P<.001).

Hypothesis 2 was designed to compare later academic

attainments of these community college graduates. Scheffe's

s-method determined that neither traditional nor nonpunitive

graduates earned significantly higher grades in their course-

work at senior institutions.

The s-method was also used as a control for the possibility

of an aptitude bias between traditional and nonpunitive sub-

jects. These groups were found to be equivalent in aptitude

level based on Florida Twelfth Grade Placement Test scores

(-30.13 to 45.81).

It was concluded that nonpunitive academic systems offer

important advantages to community college students. These

benefits signify a need for revision of community college

academic regulations in a nonpunitive direction.



An increasingly important role of today's community college

is to provide the highschool graduate with a means to higher

education. A large proportion of these students are from

lower socioeconomic backgrounds (Thornton, 1966), and the

community college is their sole means of bypassing the strin-

gent admission requirements of senior institutions. Thus, the

community college represents one of American education's most

diligent attempts at equalizing access to higher education.

Unfortunately, it does not seem to be working. The high

attrition of community college students enrolled in academic

programs is telling evidence of needed revisions.

The nonpersisting student, or dropout, has become a popular

topic for those engaged in community college research. However,

these studies are inclined to use the same approaches as those

designed for four year institutions and have overlooked a

unique problem of community colleges which may well be funda-

mental to their high attrition: the conflict between a lenient

admission policy and traditional academic regulations.

One trademark of the community college is their open door

admissions, a policy whereby highschool graduates are granted

admission, no matter what their grade point average or college

aptitude scores. In this way low performing students are

admitted. Once admitted, however, threat of punitive academic

procedures interferes with their performance before they

can adjust and take advantage of the opportunities afforded

them. The open door institutions fail to provide an adequate

period of adjustment during which students can explore, mature

and find themselves academically--a period in which new areas

of interest can be examined in an unthreatening setting.

To be instrumental in equalizing access to higher education

via open admissions, the community college must complement

the practice with compatible academic regulations, allowing

entering students the freedom to learn without threat of failure

or dismissal. This can theoretically be achieved through

pass/no-fail nonpunitivee) academic approaches. Such non-

punitive systems have already been implemented in two Florida

community colleges. The present study is an attempt to evaluate

the effectiveness of these two programs by comparing their

operation in terms of student academic progress.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to compare students from

four community colleges, two of which have punitive grading

systems and two of which have nonpunitive grading systems,

for (a) the proportions which graduate from each pair, and

(b) their grade point averages for four or more quarters at

the university, of the Florida State University System, to

which they transferred.

In so doing, this study sought to determine which system

of academic regulations is best serving the needs of community

college students, both in terms of academic persistence and



Academic persistence: A term used in describing dropout

propensity. The student who is academically persistent is

simply one who completes the course or program in which he

initially enrolls.

Florida Twelfth Grade Placement Test: Also called Florida

Statewide Test, is designed to evaluate the college aptitude

of highschool seniors. This instrument is administered yearly

to all students in the State of Florida.

Pass/no-fail: A system of grades which is designed to

minimize failure or threat of failure. This is achieved by

replacing failing and/or near failing grades with some form

of neutral mark such as "W". For purposes of this study, the

term nonpunitive is synonymous with pass/no-fail and will be

used in most instances.

Pass/fail: Evaluation on a two-step rather than on the

more traditional five-step scale. It is comparable to Satis-

factory/unsatisfactory, Credit/no credit, and other simple,

two-step modes of evaluation.

Traditional grading system: This system is typical of

academic regulations operative in most contemporary post

highschool institutions. These systems depict the entire

spectrum of academic performance, usually including five

categories (A, B, C, D, and F) to denote achievement. The

latter two marks, signifying below average work, initiate

a punitive element to the system. This effect is furthered

by requiring at least a "C" average for graduation or

remaining an active student. Furthermore, related academic

regulations such as course withdrawal deadlines and levels

of academic probations result in an emphasis upon failure.

In contrast to the non-failing system, a neutral grading

alternative is restricted, if available at all.

Open door admissions: The admissions policy of Florida

community colleges in which highschool graduates are granted

admission, regardless of college aptitude test scores. This

policy obviously provides a valuable opportunity for those

students interested in post highschool education who for one

reason or another, did not achieve the minimum scores on the

Florida Twelfth Grade Placement or Scholastic Aptitude Tests


Low performing student: A community college applicant

whose scholastic credentials render him unacceptable for

admissions to senior institutions. These students have earned

a total of less than 300 for the sum of the percentile ranks

on the five sub-tests of the Florida Twelfth Grade Placement


High performing student: A community college applicant

whose sum of percentile ranks on the five sub-tests of the

Florida Twelfth Grade Placement Test is above 300.

Academic program: A community college program which

academically duplicates the lower division requirements of

four year institutions. It is designed for the student whose

goal is transferring to a senior institution after completion

of this course of study.

Need for the Study

There has been continual criticism of the traditional

grading system. Yet its use continues because all parties

concerned, Students, parents, and educators, have failed to

establish a suitable alternative. Its tenacity is not dif-

ficult to understand. The traditional marking system has

proven itself to be extremely effective as an extrinsic moti-

vator. Students can be observed giving up their time, integrity,

and even money for an "A". Such powerful motivational effects,

however, are common only in the top ten percent of high school

achievers (Doll E Fleming, 1966). The vast majority of these

are sons and daughters of the affluent and are able both

financially and academically to enroll as freshmen in the

college of their choice.

There is significant evidence demonstrating that the

majority of students do not respond so favorably to traditional

grading, where failure is customarily imposed upon those who

achieve the least, where self esteem is systematically destroyed

by insidious comparisons. This threatening element is especially

debilitating for low performing students who make up about

half of the community college student body. For these students,

stripped of their confidence in a competitive high school

setting, more of the same is not the answer.

It is indeed unfortunate that from the beginning, community

colleges adopted the more traditional academic regulations

practiced by senior institutions. This was done even though

these lower division institutions were designed to serve

students whose academic aspirations and credentials are quite

different. If community colleges are truly dedicated to

equalizing access to higher education, as their open admission

policy would seem to indicate, then they are duty bound to

practice academic regulations which are more compatible with

the needs of their students. It seems that it is time for

community colleges to stop playing university. There is already

a full complement of these. Here a competitive milieu is

appropriately provided, presenting conditions under which

the more confident student thrives.

Community colleges need to be more sensitive to the per-

ceptual differences between their low performing and their more

confident students, for they are in a position to profoundly

affect both self image and attitude toward higher.education.

Whereas a competitive academic experience is challenging to

the more confident student, it may well be perceived as a

threat to the low performer. Hopefully, low performing

students will not be threatened by their initial college

experience, and will show marked academic growth. Through

this stimulating experience they will acquire a new optimism,

and enough momentum will be gained to allow for continued

academic success.

Community colleges must be content with, and concentrate

upon, what is perhaps their most important role: serving the

low performing student. This is a unique and vital respon-

sibility which they have undertaken, and its priority needs to

be maintained. On community college campuses, a large portion

of our highschool graduates will be given one last opportunity

to further themselves academically. It is up to the colleges

themselves to maximize the extent of this opportunity.

Community college administrators are presently poorly

equipped to decide which academic system is most appropriate

for their institution. From a theoretical point of view,

pass/no-fail academic systems are more compatible with the

needs of their students. If such a system does in fact enhance

the academic progress of low performing students, it is hoped

that this study will provide the evidence necessary to cause

community college officials to question their continued use

of traditional academic regulations at their institutions.



In order to place this study in proper perspective, two

major areas of research must be reviewed. The first deals

with grading trends in higher education and the second with

low performing students under academic threat.

Grading Trends in Higher Education

Even though committed to serve our society's needs in a

unique way, community colleges initially adopted the same

competitive mode of grading and academic probation used by

senior institutions. It is surprising that, in view of the

obvious disparities in clientele and purpose, so little effort

was made to implement a more specialized system for the two

year institution. This is exactly what is presently occurring.

Plagued by the problems already described, individual community

colleges are experimenting with less threatening academic


Pass/no-fail grading is a relatively new system, the use

of which is currently expanding in Florida's community colleges.

Its comparative effectiveness has not been documented by

empirical research. Since it is not possible to empirically

evaluate its use, the focus of this review will be the concep-

tualization underlying the development of the basic approach.

In the recent past, American educators have been express-

ing more and more hostility toward the competitive (A-F)

grading system. Sidney Simon's (1970) five reasons for dis-

carding the old system are typical of the criticism levied

against it:

(1) Grades separate students and professors into
two warring camps, both armed with dangerous
weapons, none of which have anything to do
with a notion of community of scholars.
--1(2) Grades over-reward the wrong people and often
punish students who need to be punished the
(3) Grades tend to destroy what learning should be
all about.
(4) Grades reinforce an archaic notion of 'competi-
tion' which may well turn out to be deadly in
the 1970's.
(5) Of all the destructive things which grades do,
probably the ugliest is that they contribute to
debasing a student's estimation of his own
worth (p. 9).

This same attitude, in somewhat different style, is reiterated

more concisely in a statement of Earnest Priestly (1970), a

public school teacher in Seattle:

The grading system in our schools is an anachronism
which, like the concept of Social Darwinism, belongs
to a bygone era. Grades divide us and make false
distinctions among us. Grades give us wrong prior-
ities and wrong motivation (p. 17).

Indulgent Grading

In higher education we find perhaps the greatest propensity,'

not only for criticism of grades, but also for the innovations

which it spawns. It is not surprising, therefore, to find

that numerous colleges and universities, often under pressures

from faculty-student administrative groups (Quann, 1970), have

instituted grading innovations for the purpose of lessening

academy i-anxiety-and str__ess. Unfortunately, all of this sound

thinking is threatened by empirical research, the results of

which indicate that academic performance is lowered by the

removal of grades.

In a recent study at the University of Tennessee by Hawk

and DeRidder (1972), this grade-performance relationship was

investigated. One hundred and eighteen undergraduates in four

sections of Educational Psychology made up the sample popula-

tion. The experimental group was preassigned final course

grades on the basis of their cumulative grade point average,

whereas controls were to earn theirs by the results of three

tests and a term project. In the absence of extrinsic motiva-

tion provided by grading, the majority of students did not

exert their usual degree of effort. Mean grades on all three

tests were lower for the experimental group ( <.05). However,

in a less extreme application of grading indulgence, Marshall

and Christenson's (1973) findings were inconclusive. Working

with a sample of 64 high school Spanish students, their strategy

was to consistently adjust the marks of papers and exams up

one level for the experimental group. No significant differences

in motivation or achievement were noted after a six-month course

of instruction. They concluded that arguments for either

position are grossly overstated.

Pass/fail grading

Indirect investigations of grading leniency are numerous.

They usually involve the most popular grading option, the

pass/fail system, a simple grading system designed to minimize

competition between students. In Changing Education, Elaine

Cotlove (1970) describes its effect:

It represents a simple kind of on/off situation in
which students have no reason to compete against
each other for grades and teachers have no context
in which to grade 'on the curve' (p. 15).

Additional affirmative reaction to pass/fail grading was

summarized by the Phi Beta Kappa pass/fail study committee

(1969). The following three considerations were deduced in

favor of pass/fail grading:

(1) The pass/fail option permits the student to
study or learn without being inhibited by
the pressure or emotional strain connected
with the traditional methods of evaluation.
(2) Students have an opportunity to pursue courses
in 'academically unfamiliar' areas without fear
of poor grades.
(3) Students following pass/fail options should
display greater motivation and intellectual
curiosity than those under traditional programs
(P. 47).

However, as in the case of preassigned grades just described,

results of pass/fail in an "academic sense" have been dis-


Feldmesser (1969), in a study of Dartmouth's grading

system, found that pass/fail students did much less required'

work, attended class less often, and received a final grade

one full letter lower than other students.

Wharton's (1969) investigation of Minnesota's system went

into more detail, but conclusions were similar. In a compari-

son of pass/fail and graded students based on 53 quizzes, papers

and examinations, pass/fail students failed ungraded courses

two and one-half times more often than non-pass/fail students.

In another pass/fail study of the system used at Malacester

College, Johannson (1971) concurred. He noted that the higher

achieving students who took the ungraded option did relatively

poorly. When compared to their cumulative grade point average,

their performance was significantly less than that of graded


Karlin's (1969) study at Princeton was also in agreement

with these conclusions, and, in addition, noted that there

were no significant differences between yearly grade point

averages for pass/fail and non-pass/fail students. Thus, if

enrollment in pass/fail courses allowed the pass/fail student

additional time for study in other courses, results of this

effort were not apparent in their overall performance.

Von Wittich (1972) studied a sample of 895 foreign language

students enrolled on a pass/fail basis at Iowa State University.

Pass/Fail Letter Grade


A 18 5.9 172 29.2

B 63 20.7 207 35.1

C 153 50.1 141 23.9

D 69 22.6 37 6.3

F 2 .7 33 5.5

A multiple regression analysis was used as control for those

independent variables which are assumed to contribute signif-

icantly to course grade. The resulting correlations were

significant at the .01 level. These results prompted Von

Wittich to reach the following conclusions:

There is a striking difference in the performance
of students in foreign language courses taken under
pass/fail systems and under letter grade systems
of evaluation.

Any subject based on cumulative learning should not
be offered under pass/fail systems with a D-passing
level if good results and adequate progress are
expected (p. 505).

In a correlational study, Thayer's (1973) findings not

only supported the aforementioned pass/fail research, but

revealed other meaningful relationships. The objective was

to note changes in motivation as a consequence of early

success or failure in an academic task. His subjects were

246 Long Beach State juniors, 54 of whom were enrolled on

a pass/fail basis. Students were monitored over a two-semester

span during which the following factors were found to be


(1) Pass/fail students earned lower scores overall
than traditionally evaluated students.
(2) Students who dropped out of the course had
earned low grades on the first exam.
(3) Students who did poorly on the first exam, but
remained in the course, improved their standing
on subsequent exams.
(4) Students who earned A's on the first exam, im-
proved their performance on subsequent exams.
(5) Students who earned B's on the first exam, earned
lower scores on subsequent exams.
(6) Pass/fail students showed no consistent trend in
performance on the basis of first exam scores
(p. 72)

Unfortunately, firm conclusions as to the causal influences

of low or high grades are not possible. If ethical principles

permitted, it would be interesting to control the classroom

setting with an experimental design in which these results

could be tested.

The Concept of Mastery

Nonpunitive academic approaches are based upon Bloom's

concept of mastery. As described by Bloom (1970), mastery

refers to a minimum standard of acceptability that a student

must attain in a course of study. It specifies a cutoff point

below which the student is not considered to be competent and

above which he is thought to be "master" of the material.

There are two basic assumptions to the mastery concept.

The first is that it is both reasonable and acceptable that

individuals differ in the rate at which they achieve mastery

(Carroll, 1963). The second is that all students can achieve

mastery. Bloom (1970) said that "our basic task is to determine

what we mean by mastery of the subject and to search for the

methods and materials which will enable the largest proportion

of our students to attain such mastery (p. 43)."

It can be seen that such a system is fundamentally consistent

with the community college's task of serving large numbers of

students with marginal academic skills and its conviction that

under suitable conditions, all men are educable. Hopefully,

mastery approaches such as pass/no-fail would effectively

meet community college needs.


Apparently, while threat of competition is effectively

lessened under a pass/no-fail system, incentive for study is

diminished at the same time. The reward value associated with

A's and B's, although extrinsic in origin, is an effective

motivator. These suppositions would lead us to devise an

academic system which incorporates the following two features:

(1) a minimal or nonexistent threat of failure

(2) extrinsic academic rewards commensurate with expended


It would appear that the above rationale is fundamental to

the development and expansion of the pass/no-fail system in

today's community colleges. Such a system has been implemented

in several community colleges in Florida and elsewhere in the

nation. Yet, for some reason, researchers have neglected its

study, at least in a theoretical sense. Individual institutions,

out of concern for their own success or failure, have evaluated

their systems. However, their noncomparative designs belie

selfish goals. These should not be construed as attempts at

finding a "better" system.

The question as to whether or not pass/no-fail academic

regulations are more appropriate within the community college

setting remains to be seen. Review of similar systems would

indicate that the approach holds sound theoretical promise.

Low Performing Students Under Academic Threat

Approximately one-half of community college entrants would

fail to meet the academic standards required by senior institu-

tions. These students are likely to bring with them a history

of academic mediocrity and failure. Through past experiences

they have learned certain maladaptive responses to academic

tasks, especially under the threat of competition found in

traditional academic settings. Although this explicit

relationship has not been studied, a considerable body of

research under the general topic of achievement motivation

is pertinent.

The bulk of studies related to this area has emphasized

the positive, seeking, and somewhat aggressive modes of

achievement motivation. The choice may well have been a

consequence of its relevance within our society. Achievement

in terms of competitive striving is central to American

beliefs concerning success, a success based upon individual

accomplishments, not family status.

So it was that most researchers focused upon this more

promising vector, giving only passing reference to the negative

aspect of achievement motivation, that of fearing failure. As

a personality trait, fear of failure (FF) has historical roots

in clinical studies which deal with guilt, shame, inferiority,

and anxiety. It was not explicitly investigated until the

1930's and the early level of aspiration studies. Even then

it wasn't valued in itself, but seemed to offer a logical

explanation for the individual differences found in aspira-

tional levels.

Level of Aspiration Studies

In similar studies, Hoppe (1930) and Dembo (1931) investi-

gated the relationship between feelings of achievement and

level of aspiration (LA). They found their subjects tended to

regulate feelings of satisfaction by assigning themselves

appropriate levels of aspiration. In this way, level of

aspiration was being used as a device for assuaging ego needs.

The real impact of this finding, however, was left to

Frank (1935), who was the first actually to identify the

paradoxical motivating device, fear of failure (FF). He

noted that certain subjects were predisposed to ease their

feelings of failure by assuring success. This they accom-

plished by simply maintaining their level of aspiration at

an easily attainable level. The concept of fear of failure

has remained as a basic tenet of aspirational studies.

A series of studies in the 1940's and 1950's utilized an

important refinement within level of aspiration research. A

standard index, termed a goal discrepancy score (GDS), was

developed for describing an individual's failure orientation.

The GDS is simply the average difference between a subject's

actual performance and his succeeding level of aspiration.

A positive GDS indicates a level of aspiration above prior

performance levels, and, similarly, a negative GDS represents

a level of aspiration below the level of prior performance.

This concept was especially useful to researchers interested

in the relationship between level of aspiration and personality.

Gardner (1940) pursued this question by dividing his

subjects into two groups: one with the lowest negative goal

discrepancy scores and the other with the highest positive

scores. By doing so, he was able to isolate distinctive per-

sonality differences between the two groups. He found the

high negative group to rank lowest on realistic outlook,

motivation, and sense of security while highest on fear of

failure. The high positive group ranked highest in desire

for intellectual achievement and dissatisfaction with their

present status.

Sears (1941) performed a similar study with the addition

of a moderate (low positive) group. Her results generally

substantiated those of Gardner in his findings for the two

positive groups. In addition, her low positive group was

characterized by high self confidence, a realistic outlook,

and experienced a relatively high degree of success in whatever

they attempted.

This research can be seen to influence the work of Atkin-

son which is dealt with later in the chapter.

Level of Aspiration and Social Class

Although not usually considered a personality variable,

social class is known to be related to behavior in competitive

situations. Marx and Tombaugh (1967) allude to this relation-

ship between level of aspiration and social class.

Level of aspiration may be influenced profoundly by
certain social factors. Typically, the lower the
level of discrepancy scores, the higher the subject's
socioeconomic standing. The discrepancy scores are
considered to be an indication of stress (Gould, 1941).
Members of the lower socioeconomic classes are assumed
to be more susceptible to stress (p. 101).

Marx and Tombaugh's comment is especially pertinent to the

problem at hand, for community college clientele average

significantly lower in socioeconomic status than the clientele

of colleges and universities (Thornton, 1960). This fact in

itself underlines the need for a specialized system of community

college academic regulations.

Effects of Self Esteem

Other researchers became interested in the related

personality variable of self esteem (SE), especially in the

context of success and failure. According to Cohen (1959):

A person's self-esteem affects the evaluation he
places on his performance in a particular situation
and the manner in which he behaves when in inter-
action with others . . It may be viewed as a
function of the coincidence between an individual's
aspirations and his achievement of these aspirations
(p. 103).

Cohen theorizes that persons with high self esteem have learned

to protect themselves from negative self evaluation. They

assess an objective failure as a small failure and an objective

success as a large success. Low SE persons evaluate themselves

negatively, viewing failures as very poor performances and

successes as only minor events. These people are apparently

predisposed to react to their experiences in such a way that

it is difficult to them to improve their self regard. Such

reasoning serves as the basis for the hypothesis that low SE

subjects are more affected by failure experiences and less

by successful ones.

Stotland, Thorley, and Zander (1957) tested this proposal

by studying the reactions of 175 male undergraduates to success

and failure experiences. Since the self esteem of each subject

had been measured prior to the experiment, it was possible to

group subjects according to this criterion for comparative

purposes. While participating in certain prearranged tasks,

half were allowed to succeed and the other half told that they

had failed. This latter group differed considerably in their

self evaluation, according to their self esteem. When other

variables were held constant, the mean self evaluation for

high SE subjects was 2.55; for low SE subjects it was 1.75

(p(.05). Additional research by Thomas and Burdick (1954),

and Cohen (1956) tended to substantiate these findings. Their

consensus also was that different levels of self esteem induce

different patterns of protective reaction to failure experiences.

Approach-Avoidance and Achievement

Another dimension of level of aspiration research progressed

as an outgrowth of Frank's (1935) fear of failure concept. As

in the aforementioned level of aspiration studies, it is theo-

retically assumed that an individual's achievement orientation

is learned in the course of past experience. The focus, however,

is somewhat changed with the inclusion of a positive or approach


Kurt Lewin (1935), whose system of thought is usually

labeled field theory, dealt with this approach-avoidance

relationship in reference to conflict. His topological treat-

ment of the subject enabled him to apply experimental methodology

to complex behavioral problems.

Both Frank's and Lewin's influence are apparent in the

work of McClelland and associates (1953), who systematically

studied these two achievement orientations: (1) the approach

motive, based upon hope for success and an anticipation of

reward, and (2) the avoidance motive, centering around the

anticipation of failure. These two components operate con-

currently within each individual as achievement tasks are


encountered. Their behavioral expression varies from person

to person as a function of the comparative strength of each


It is interesting to note that, whereas this description

of these two orientations appears to be nearly in opposition

to one another, the overt behavioral expression of each may

be nearly identical and result in the same goal attainment.

If, for example, the goal happened to be that of making an

"A" in a particular course, the expressed behavior in either

case may be to spend fifty hours reading the textbook. These

two approaches have been extensively investigated, and there

is strong evidence indicating that the former orientation,

that of actively striving for goal attainment, is the more

effective of the two. This difference is especially noticeable

in academic settings where cognitive goals are the rule.

Atkinson's Predictive Model

Atkinson (1957) proposed a theoretical model enabling him

to predict an individual's success in competitive situations.

Refinements of McClelland's aforementioned achievement orienta-

tions are used as motivation variables within his technique.

They are: (1) need for achievement (n ach), and (2) manifest

anxiety (MA). Atkinson's theory is based upon the assumption

that persons high in n ach and low in MA are characterized

by actively seeking success, while those low in n ach and high

in MA would be characterized by an avoidance orientation.

Some interesting assumptions can be drawn from this tenet

concerning the expected behavior of the fear of failure when

confronting an achievement situation. They begin with Snygg

and Comb's (1949) assertion that we constantly strive to raise

our self evaluations and avoid lowering them. We are forever

seeking the maintenance and enhancement of our perceived selves.

For persons lacking confidence, the most effective way to pro-

tect these self beliefs is to avoid having them tested. Indeed,

the fear of failure has often been described as achievement


There are essentially three basic strategies for the indi-

vidual with the fear of failure syndrome (FF), determined to

avoid evaluation. The most obvious strategy is to remain

uninvolved in achievement tasks. Such behavior offers reward

value to the FF by allowing for his reception of the least

possible amount of information. Of course, complete avoidance

of achievement confrontation is not possible. If inadvertently

involved, an early withdrawal from the encounter is frequently

the best available tactic (Birney, 1969).

The remaining two modes of reducing feedback information

involve a choice of inappropriate tasks. The selection of an

extremely easy task, the attainment of which is virtually

assured, is quite uninformative. This is also true in the

case of the other extreme, where a task at an impossible

difficulty level is chosen (Birney, 1969). Thus, by making

unexpected and seemingly irrational shifts of goal selection,

it is not difficult for the FF to avoid evaluative comparisons.

These are the behavioral predictions which Atkinson makes

from his theory concerning fear of failure and avoidance of

evaluation. There have been innumerable studies which have

dealt with these concepts. As already indicated, early level

of aspiration studies became involved with fear of failure

only incidentally, as it served to explain the variance of

level of aspiration. Only since Atkinson's influence during

the middle 50's has it become a topic of interest in its own

right. Since that time, investigations of the topic have

resulted in both accordant, supportive, and discordant, non-

supportive findings.

Accordant Studies

One of these earlier studies was conducted by Jucknat

(1937), who investigated the relationship between past per-

formance and level of aspiration in 500 school children. His

sample was divided into three groups (good, medium, and poor)

on the basis of their classroom assignments. Each subject was

presented with a series of maze solving tasks ordered in

difficulty from 1 to 10. They were asked to choose the one

which they believed they could successfully solve. The "good"

group chose a difficulty level of from 7 to 10, while the

"middle" group's aspirations fell in the middle range of 5

and 6. The lower group showed marked inconsistency by choosing

either easy tasks ranging from 1 to 4, or difficult ones

between 7 and 10.

In a more recent study, Clark, Teevan, and Riccuiti (1956)

observed similar avoidance patterns in FF subjects. In three

classes of Swarthmore freshmen, a questionnaire was administered

just prior to the final exam. Subjects were asked to predict

how they would fare on the forthcoming exam. FF subjects

were willing to accept a score below their estimate in return

for an opportunity to be excused from taking the exam. All

correlations were positive and significant at the .01 level

of confidence.

Moulton (1965) worked with a sample of 93 male high school

students. He presented them with tasks of three difficulties

(E=.25, p=.50, p=.75). Each subject was well informed as to

the varying difficulty levels before being instructed to begin

work on the intermediate task (p=.50). The objective was to

note the difficulty of the next task chosen after initially

succeeding or failing on the intermediate task. FF subjects

were expected to make more atypical shifts, i.e., after suc-

ceeding at p=.SO, selecting the easy task, or after failing

at p=.50, selecting the more difficult task. The FF group

was found to make significantly more atypical shifts as


Apparently, fear of failure avoidance behavior is not

limited to academic endeavors. Hancock and Teevan (1964)

conducted a study of risk taking involving monetary rewards.

Sixty male high school students were tested and divided

at the median in fear of failure and hope of success groups.

Each subject operated an apparatus at which he first chose

odds, then pushed a button to receive a monetary payoff.

Of course, the higher the odds, the greater the payoff (high

risk). Initially, FF subjects selected more difficult odds

and throughout the session, continued to make significantly

more irrational choices.

Logically, it would seem that these predicted behavioral

patterns would have a corresponding effect upon occupational

aspirations. Burnstein (1963) was able to isolate such

relationships in a group of 67 male undergraduates. He found

that as fear of failure increased, (a) the prestige of aspired-

to occupations decreased, (b) willingness to settle for less

satisfying and less prestigious occupations increased, and

(c) the person began to perceive that occupations with extremely

low probabilities of attainment were within his reach. These

relationships were all significant at the .01 level of confi-


These various findings strongly concur with Atkinson's

predictions. Each study has reflected a general tendency for

the FF to avoid possibilities of psychologically meaningful

failures. Unfortunately, other research on this topic has

yielded conflicting results.

Discordant Studies

Two studies by Feather (1965, 1966) directly investigate

the relationship between expectation of success and achievement

orientation. The first used a sample of 168 male undergraduates

who were first tested for n ach and MA. Two sets of instruc-

tions designed to manipulate expectations of success were

used. The first set described the forthcoming anagrams task

as moderately difficult (low initial expectancy), while the

other set gave the initial impression of easiness and simplicity

(high initial expectancy). Results showed the high n ach/low MA,

low initial expectancy group to have a significantly higher

initial estimate for their success. All other groups failed

to perform as expected. FF subjects gave no evidence of

atypical success predictions or other tactics for avoiding


A year later Feather (1966) studied a sample of 98 female

undergraduates in a similar experiment using the same anagram

tasks. Results again failed to show the expected avoidance

behavior in FF subjects. Feather accounts for these inconsis-

tent findings by hypothesizing that expected success predictions

will be forthcoming only when motives to achieve and avoid

achievement are highly aroused. This would necessitate a

task of intermediate difficulty (p=.50).

Birney, however, is skeptical of this explanation. He

prefers to attribute such findings to ineffective measures

used when differentiating between failure and success groups.

The charge is not unreasonable in view of the low reliability

which is characteristic of such personality measures.

In another study which yielded unexpected results, Atkin-

son and Litwin (1960) investigated risk taking in FF subjects.

The task was one of tossing rings over a stationary peg.

Subjects were allowed to select their own difficulty level by

varying their distance from the peg. Surprisingly, subjects

of both achievement orientations preferred tossing rings from

an intermediate range. The authors accounted for the FF's

unexpected mid-range preference by the fact that these subjects

must not be true FF's. Their contention is that the majority

of persons with significant avoidance motives are eliminated

long before they reach college. This same criticism would, of

course, apply to most studies which deal with avoidance motiva-



It is obvious that the findings of achievement motivation

research have not always been consistent with one another.

The rationale of Birney, Feather, and Atkinson in attempting

to explain these exceptions, has already been offered. However,

it may well be that the confusion is due to erroneous assump-

tions as to the pervasiveness of fear of failure. "Could the

fear of failure motive have more than one dimension?" It seems

plausible that as a consequence of past experience, a person

may exude confidence in one situation or at one point in time

and yet react as an FF in other. Surely, every adult has been

successful at some activity to which he reacts with certainty

and confidence.

On the other hand, the results of this research are not

totally inconsistent. A cluster of agreement as to the avoidant

behavior of FF individuals is easily discernable. In the

author's opinion, the reported findings have a direct bearing

upon the problem at hand: the low performing student's.non-

persistence in the fact of academic competition. Birney's

statement, which follows, reiterates this contention.

The problem with instructional techniques which use
punishment as a motive source is that the individual's
chief concern is with the avoidance of the punishment
and only secondarily with the escape route that the
punisher might have in mind . . The individual
motivated by a fear of failure is going to select
the strategy that gets him away from the failure
experience (p. 206).

With this in mind, it is not easy to overlook the coincidence

of several factors within the community college setting. Fear

of failure is a phenomenon not uncommon to the community college

population. Its high incidence is paralleled by their nonpersis-

tence, especially within the competitive setting of the more

traditional institutions.

It is entirely possible that this relationship is coinci-

dental. However, through the empirical evidence brought to

light in the aforementioned studies, the author is convinced

that the explanation offered by these motivational effects

offers a sound rationale which cannot be overlooked.



Overall Design of the Study

This study longitudinally compared the academic progress

of two groups of community college students over a four year

period. The criterion used to divide the groups was that of

two divergent systems of academic rules and regulations im-

posed by the institutions themselves. These academic systems

had the effect of imposing a specific "treatment" upon each

of the two groups, a treatment which was expected to have

differential effects upon the academic persistence of low-

performing students. Persistence was assessed through a

comparison of the proportion of students who achieved gradua-

tion from each of these community college academic systems.

To analyze the ultimate merit of each system, a further com-

parison was made of the ensuing academic performance in upper

division coursework.


It was hypothesized that there would be no difference be-

tween the proportion of low performing students who graduate from

community colleges which practice traditional academic regulations,

and those which practice pass/no-fail nonpunitivee) academic

regulations. The first hypothesis was tested by comparing the

proportions of low performing students who achieve graduation

from traditional and from nonpunitive institutions. It was

designed to answer the following question: Are low performing


community college students more successful academically within

the less threatening setting provided by an institution which

practices nonpunitive academic regulations?

It was also hypothesized that there would be no difference

between the grade point averages earned at senior institutions

by low performing students who 'transfer from traditional com-

munity colleges and from community colleges which employ non-

punitive academic practices. The second hypothesis was tested

by a comparison of mean grade point averages earned at senior

institutions by low performing students who have graduated from

traditional and from nonpunitive community colleges. It was

designed to answer the following question: Are low performing

students who have attended a community college which practices

nonpunitive academic regulations as well prepared for upper

division course work as those who are products of more tradition-

al community colleges?

It was finally hypothesized that there would be no difference

between the grade point averages earned at senior institutions

by those students who graduated from nonpunitive community

colleges and those who attended traditional community colleges.

This hypothesis was tested with a comparison of mean grade

point averages earned at senior institutions by those students

who transferred from nonpunitive and those from traditional

community colleges. It was designed to answer the following

question: Are those student transfers from pass/no-fail

community colleges as well prepared for upper division course

work as those from more traditional community colleges?


The sample was made up of first year students who initially

enrolled in community college for the 1970-71 academic year.

None of the institutions from which the subjects were drawn

provide housing facilities, hence the vast majority of these

students reside at home in the vicinity of the community college.

Generally speaking, this sample characterized the overall

community college student population, their socioeconomic status

and academic credentials averaging somewhat less than their

peers who attend a more selective college or university. There

was, however, a significant difference in the homogeneity of

this and other community college student groups. This was a

contrived difference resulting from the following three selec-

tion factors:

(1) The Florida Statewide Test was administered during

their senior year in high school (Fall, 1969).

(2) In a Board of Regents survey, each of these students

registered their intent for an extended college

career beyond the A.A. degree offered by the com-

munity college.

(3) These students all enrolled as full time students

(12 or more credit hours).

The first of the above factors was necessary in order to

categorize students as either high or low performing on the

basis of a uniform standard. The latter factors were enacted

to provide the intended focus for the study, a focus which

deals with only full time students whose academic ambitions

are beyond the associate degree offered by the community


These constraints eliminated a large portion of community

college entrants and served to greatly narrow the limits of

the sample as to age and college program. As a consequence,

all subjects graduated from high school in 1970, their ages

ranging from 18 to 21. Upon entering the community college,

due to academic plans for a baccalaureate degree, each enrolled

in an A.A. degree program. This and other pertinent information

was retrieved from a statewide survey of community college fresh-

men conducted by the Board of Regents (BOR).

Selection Procedures

Early in the 1970-71 academic year the Board of Regents

conducted a survey of all new community college students in

the state of Florida. This instrument, entitled "Characteris-

tics of College Students," consisted of 22 questions designed

to establish the normative characteristics of Florida's com-

munity college population. The sample for this study was

drawn from that population.

Four of these schools were selected, and the list of in-

coming students as surveyed by the BOR was obtained. At this

point, the sample looked as follows:

School Code School Location N

332 Lake City Lake City 160
410 St. Johns Palatka 600

386 Polk Winter Haven 500
414 Santa Fe Gainesville 380

Next it was necessary to merge the BOR data with an

additional data source in order to add names and Florida

Statewide Test scores, two essential items of data which

were missing from the BOR file. This new file was made

available by the testing division of the University of Florida's

office of instructional resources. Through the services of

the regional data center, a computer program written in COBOL

combined these two files by matching like social security

numbers, the only field common to both data sources.

A considerable reduction of N was again anticipated and

realized due to the large number of students in the BOR survey

file who, for one reason or another, did not take the Florida

Statewide Test in the Fall of 1969. In these instances, there

would be no record to match up with in the testing divisions

file, automatically eliminating these students from further

consideration. The final screening yielded the following

sample as studied:

School Location N

Lake City Lake City 100

St. Johns Palatka 325

Santa Fe Gainesville 100

Polk Winter Haven 225

This step yielded a report which made it possible to determine

for each student, the institution, and hence the academic

regulations he will experience in community college. It is

also possible to formulate an estimate of his academic skills,

socioeconomic status and future educational plans. Armed

with this data it remained only to visit each of the four

schools to assess dependent variables, the proportion of

students who graduate, and their academic success at their

respective senior institutions to which they transferred.

Before the above mentioned visits were made, individual

student names were replaced by numeric codes. This step was

necessary as a precautionary measure for guaranteeing anonym-

ity and confidentiality of individual subjects. From this

point on in the study, a direct use of student names was

avoided. After some practice, it was possible to mentally

translate back into alphabetic symbols when the need arose.

Data Analysis

Two distinct phases of data analysis were undertaken. The

first was designed to compare the proportion of low performing

students who achieved graduation from traditional and from

nonpunitive community colleges. To do so, contingency tables

of traditional and nonpunitive graduates were set up for observed

and expected frequencies. The first hypothesis was then sub-

jected to a chi square analysis, based upon these tables.

Chi square was also used to compare mean aptitude as a

preliminary to a test of Hypothesis 2. It is used as a control

for unexpected differences in the college aptitude of either

traditional or nonpunitive samples, a condition which would

allow for the occurrence of this misleading bias. Thus, mean

Florida Statewide Test scores for these two groups were compared

in the event that such meaningful differences were present.

The second phase was concerned with a follow-up analysis

of these graduates as they pursued upper division course

work at senior institutions. This process began by calculating

mean grade point averages of students from traditional and

nonpunitive community colleges. The second and third hypotheses

were then tested by subjecting these means to Sheffe's method

of comparisons, the s-method (Scheffe, 1959).



Chapter IV presents the results of this study. It is

divided into a report of the hypotheses investigated, and

additional findings. An interpretation and discussion of

these findings will be presented in Chapter V.

The Hypotheses Investigated

Hypothesis 1, as stated in null form, predicted that no

significant differences would exist between traditional and

nonpunitive academic systems in terms of the proportion of

low performing students who graduated from them. A chi square

analysis rejected this hypothesis. Totals displayed in Table 1

show that nonpunitive institutions graduate a significantly

greater proportion of low performing students (P(.001). The

contingency table used in the calculation of this statistic

is found in Appendix A.

Hypothesis 2 is concerned with a follow-up analysis of

low performing graduates as to their grade point averages at

senior institutions while pursuing upper division course work.

A presentation of mean grade point average by institution is

found in Table 2.

As stated in null form, Hypothesis 2 predicted that there

would be no significant difference between grade point average

of low performing students from traditional, and low performing

students from nonpunitive, community colleges. The s-method

Table 1

Frequencies of Low Performing Graduates and Nongradt

Grads Nongrads

St. Johns 30 111 Santa Fe

Lake City 19 35 Polk

Totals 49 146 Totals

Graduates as percent 25%

Table 2

Grade Point Averages by Type, School and Level

source Ability Level Schoo

High 2.49

St. Johns 2.41

Low 2.32

Traditional High 2.82
High 2.82

Lake City 2.54

Low 2.26

High 2.50

Santa Fe 2.55

Low 2.58

High 2.84

Polk 2.67

Low 2.53

(Scheffe, 1959) was used for making this test by comparing

the mean difference in grade point average between the

graduates from these two types of institutions. The s-method

led to the acceptance of the null hypothesis.

Low performing students from nonpunitive community colleges

earned grades equivalent to those of their traditional counter-

parts. This contrast, based upon the 95 percent confidence

interval -.27 to .77 was found to be not significant. These

intervals are considered acceptable for this statistical tech-

nique according to Glass and Stanley (1970).

To control for a possible bias in aptitude between these

two groups, the s-method was used to compare their mean Florida

Twelfth Grade Placement Test scores. This comparison, based

upon the 95 percent confidence interval -50.23 to 97.47

(Glass & Stanley, 1970), was also nonsignificant.

Additional Findings

As presented in Table 2, the data allows for two additional


(1) The effects of institutional type (traditional/non-

punitive) upon the sample as a whole, including students of

both aptitude levels. This grouping amounts to a representative

cross section of community college students enrolled in college

parallel programs.

The s-method was used to test mean grade point averages

earned by traditional and nonpunitive graduates in upper divi-

sion course work. It yielded the 95 percent confidence

interval -.03 to .50 (Glass & Stanley, 1970), indicative of

nonsignificant differences between school types.

The same statistical procedure was used to control

for the possibility of an aptitude bias in favor of either

traditional or nonpunitive groups. On the basis of Florida

Twelfth Grade Placement Test scores, a 95 percent confidence

interval of -30.13 to 45.81 was calculated, attributing non-

significance to this difference.

(2) The relationship of college aptitude, as measured by

the Florida Twelfth Grade Placement Test, to mean grade point

average earned for upper division course work. This comparison

was made as a check on the validity of the Florida Twelfth

Grade Placement Test which was the sole criterion used to

classify students as high or low performing, a classification

essential to the analysis of Hypothesis 1.

The s-method was again used in making the comparison

of mean grade point average between high and low performing

students. The 95 percent confidence interval .06 to .51

indicates a significant difference in grades between these

two aptitude classifications. This finding confirmed that

the aptitude test had validly predicted the future academic

performance of students within the sample.

Further use of the s-method to control for aptitude

bias, as in the previous comparisons, yielded the confidence

interval 110.63 to 186.54 (Glass & Stanley, 1970) showing

anticipated differences in aptitude.


A discussion of the significance and interpretation of

these results is presented in the final chapter of the study.



Primary Results

The primary findings reported in Chapter IV bear a certain

urgency which cannot be overlooked. As shown in Table 1,

traditional community colleges were found to graduate only

25 percent of their low performing students. Apparently,

these community colleges, representing a major and growing

educational influence, practice academic regulations which are

not in the best interest of their students. Theoretically

speaking, less punitive academic systems are more compatible

with the needs of community college clientele. The signifi-

cantly greater academic persistence shown in Table 1, by those

students studying under nonpunitive academic regulations,

lends empirical support to these contentions. Why, then, do

these institutions proceed with an academic system suspected

of impairing their college transfer programs?

In this author's opinion, it has much to do with the

prevalent notion in higher education that a primary task of

community colleges is to screen students as "college material,"

a function of separating the wheat from the chaff. This

notion is used to justify both the institution's adherence to

academic regulations and the rampant attrition of its students.

The problem lies not with the notion itself, but in the strategem

for its attainment--the traditional academic system. Use of

this system can be defended only if it works; only if those

it graduates are a more select group who excel academically

in upper division course work.

The findings of this study clearly threaten such conjecture.

In Table 2 a comparison of grade point average by type of

institution illustrates that the nonpunitive graduates of this

study compare favorably with traditional graduates. The equiv-

alent academic success of these two groups, after transferring

to senior institutions, suggests that in the community college

setting, punitive academic measures and their resulting select-

ivity are unnecessary. Evidently, punitive practices discourage

large number of students while doing little else.

The foregoing criticism, while of no small consequence,

considers only the most tangible injustice of needless punish-

ment. It is far more difficult to estimate the additional

grievous effects upon the students' attitudes toward education

and their own self worth. These values are likely to accompany

the unsuccessful student for a lifetime. Even worse, there is

no assurance that such negative feelings will end here, all

too often being transmitted to their children. These widespread

effects are too high a price to pay, unless profound advantages

in traditional community college academic systems can be demon-


Additional Discussion

As shown in Table 1, a significantly greater proportion

of low performing students were found to graduate from

nonpunitive than from additionall community colleges. This

finding comes as no surprise when considering the probationary

regulations as practiced by traditional institutions.

A student attends for a term on probationary status,

after which he is denied admission the following term unless

his grade point average is raised to this minimum standard.

During the period of "forced retirement," students are all too

often sidetracked by distracting experiences. In addition,

it comes as no surprise that, faced with the decision of

returning to school, they experience a propensity for its

avoidance as a consequence of past academic disappointments.

Thus, even if the option of readmission is made available, a

nonacademic alternative too often becomes a forced choice.

Findings as related to grade point average are more dif-

ficult to explain. Differences in rate of attrition between

nonpunitive and traditional community colleges indicate that

the latter graduate more selectively. It follows that those

individuals selected, if chosen for their academic prowess,

would tally superior academic records after graduation. This

anticipated advantage, however, was not to be found. Evidently

there are other important factors which contribute to future

academic success, e.g., cooperation, inquisitiveness, and

motivational qualities which may be inhibited by the threat of

punitive measures. Perhaps the selectivity of the more puni-

tive system is too narrow, failing to recognize the value of

other worthwhile qualities. The system's misdirected practices

result in the discouragement and eventual withdrawal of many

competent students.

It is impossible to determine with any conclusiveness the

actual reasons for the students' behavior from a study of

this type. However, the findings, as presented, are an indica-

tion that the academic future of many community college students

is being curtailed unnecessarily by the effects of traditional

academic regulations.

Suggestions for Further Research

The findings of this study question the efficacy of using

traditional academic regulations within the community college

setting and suggest a need to refine research. The following

modifications in sampling and data gathering techniques are

recommended for any further research in this area:

(1) An effort must be made to either control or allow for

the occurrence of a grading bias in favor of a particular group

within a sample. As a threat to validity, this bias is especially

realistic in view of the known aspirational differerences between

groups with different aptitude levels. In this way, low per-

forming students may be predisposed to select "easier" programs.

The most straightforward technique for controlling

the eventuality of a grade bias is that of matching groups

for equivalent difficulty, accomplished simply by eliminating

students where an imbalance occurs.

(2) All community colleges within this study are under

state support and direction, which amounts to a fundamental

control of material assets, such as equipment, facilities, and

faculty qualifications. In future studies it would be

advantageous to improve control for the equality of such factors

which can profoundly effect student persistence.

Unfortunately, there are less tangible factors which

are more difficult to control and which may also have a sig-

nificant effect upon student persistence. In the present study,

Santa Fe Community College and the untold effects of its

proximity to the University of Florida, are a good case in point.

The University of Florida may subtly effect student attitudes

at Santa Fe by adding a certain inspiration and challenge.

Until these and similar qualities can be examined experimentally,

attributing Santa Fe's success with low performing students to

its academic system is highly questionable.

(3) In subsequent studies, improved generalizability of

findings may be achieved through the inclusion of additional

community colleges within a sample. A minimum of four tradi-

tional and four nonpunitive institutions should be included.

Such an expansion would lend assurance of better representa-

tion of each type of institution. It would afford the researcher

the opportunity to better identify the uniqueness of each insti-

tution with inter-institutional comparisons.

(4) A matched sampling technique is recommended for

improving balance within the sample. For example, Santa Fe,

the most nonpunitive institution in this study, creates a

particular need for such a procedure. To balance the effect

of a college like Santa Fe, an institution like Tallahassee

Community College, a highly traditional school, is needed.

Also, it is a traditional institution which has a close

proximity to a major university as Santa Fe has to the

University of Florida.

(5) It is further recommended that consideration of

community colleges for future study be expanded to include

institutions from various regions of the country. Such an

approach would offer two important advantages: (a) due to

greater choice, it would be possible to be more selective in

choosing institutions for study. The increased standardiza-

tion as to institutional type, i.e. traditional and nonpunitive,

would lend greater assurance that students are exposed to

equivalent systems of academic affairs, and (b) choice of

institutions from different geographical areas would help to

account for the presence of unexpected endemic qualities within

the sample.

(6) Finally, in classifying students as high or low per-

forming, it would be preferable to base the decisions upon more.

than a single index of performance. For example, it would be

ideal to consider two or more aptitude measures, as well as

grade point average. Such a procedure allows for both different

types of aptitude and their day-to-day variance, resulting in

a more reliable estimate of student aptitude.


Many educators appear convinced that only a few students

can learn what we have to teach, that individual differences

totally justify the fact that many do not learn. Their feel-

ings are the antithesis of the community college philosophy

based upon the notion that nearly all people are educable,

that if given the proper opportunity nearly all can succeed.

This community college position is exemplified by their open

admission policy and ambition to extend democracy by lengthen-

ing equal educational opportunity, a noble quest for any

American educational institution. However, both the theoret-

ical and the empirical evidence depicted in this study suggest

that the predominant system of academic regulations within

these institutions is incompatible with this goal.

Their traditional academic system is fundamentally competi-

tive. Degradation and failure are imposed upon those who....._

achieve the least. These factors have been found especially

debilitating to low performing students, a large and important

faction within the community college student population.

The adoption of pass/no-fail academic regulations appears

to circumvent these problems. As competition and threat of

failure are diminished, academic persistence can be seen to

increase. While this in itself is commendable, the merit of

an academic system cannot be assessed merely in terms of the

proportion of students who are able to complete its program

of study. It must also be established that these graduates

have benefited from the program and are able to succeed in

more advanced academic programs for which they were preparing.

A follow up comparison of mean grade point averages was

quite revealing. Transfers from less academically threaten-

ing community colleges equalled the grade point averages earned

by their contemporaries from traditional institutions. Evi-

dently, academic progress of community college students in

academic programs is enhanced by nonthreatening academic regula-

tions, both in terms of persistence and scholarship.

Thus, it is determined that nonthreatening community

colleges not only graduate a larger proportion of their

entrants, but also do a commendable job in preparing them for

future academic endeavors. When inductively combined, these

facts tell us that the community college which minimizes

academic threat is a greater asset to both its students and

the community which it serves. These findings convey the

need for revising traditional community college academic

regulations. It is the author's hope that the urgency of

this message will at least promote additional interest and

research, if not actual reform.

Appendix A

Observed and Expected Frequencies
of Low Performing Graduates and Nongraduates

Regulations Grads Nongrads Totals Grad:

Traditional 49 146 195 73.6

Pass/No-fail 91 85 176 66.4

Totals 140 231 371 140.0

X2 = 17.92
df = 1; p<.001

Appendix B

Contrasted Differences Among
Means by Type and Level


high performing

non punitive
high performing

non punitive
low performing

low performing





high performing

non punitive
high performing

non pui
low per:


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Hugh Alan Johnston was born March 28, 1939, in Cincinnati,

Ohio. At three years of age, he moved with his parents to

northern Virginia, where he attended Fairfax County public

schools. After graduation from high school in 1956, he served

in the U. S. Navy for two years before enrolling as an under-

graduate biology student at Trinity University, San Antonio,.

Texas. Receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in 1964,

he spent the next three years programming computers as a

civilian employee of the Army and for General Electric. In

January, 1967, he returned to school at the University of

Virginia in Charlottesville. There, he completed the M.Ed.

degree in Educational Psychology in June, 1969. At that time,

he assumed a position at Indian River Community College in

Fort Pierce, Florida, where he taught computer science and

psychology. Then, in 1972, he enrolled at the University of

Florida as a doctoral student in Foundations of Education.

There he worked as a graduate assistant while working towards

a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.

In 1965 he married the former Janis Neville. They have

three children, Todd, Amy and Jill.

I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Donald L. Avila, Chairman
Professor of Education

I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Richard J; Anderson
Professor'of Psychology

I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philisophy.

Vynce A. Hines
Professor of Education

I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Hannelore L. Wass
Professor of Education

This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of
the College of Education and to the Graduate Council, and was
accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

December, 1975

Dean, College of/Education

Dean, Graduate School

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