Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Andrea L. Beach

Second Advisor

Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer

Third Advisor

Dr. Randy Ott


Academic probation, shame, academic identity, attribution perspective, at-risk students, academic recovery course


Student retention is critical to the success of the student, the college or university, and society in general. Consequently, institutions of higher education continue to focus efforts on student retention strategies and one such strategy utilizes academic recovery courses to support probationary freshmen. Previous research studies of these courses largely focus on academic outcomes without examining the “why” or “how” behind such outcomes. Some studies also discuss constructs including attribution perspective, shame, and academic identity. However, the relationship between these constructs has not been researched, particularly with regard to any change that may occur for probationary freshmen engaged with an academic recovery course.

This sequential, mixed-methods study, framed by Shame Resilience Theory (Brown, 2006), Attribution Theory (Weiner, 2008), and Academic Identity (Marcia, 1963; Was & Isaacson, 2008), researches change in these constructs for probationary freshmen enrolled in an academic recovery course at one mid-sized research university in the Midwest, and explores how students made meaning of their academic recovery process.

A pre- and post-course survey was utilized in the quantitative phase of the study. Results indicated a statistically significant difference between mean shame scores for male and female probationary freshmen indicating that females experienced more shame while on probation than males. Concerning academic identity, over 50% of probationary freshmen resided in a moratorium academic identity status, while those with an achieved identity status represented 27.7% of the students. Relationships were found between the constructs wherein academic identity was statistically correlated with shame and attribution perspective. As moratorium identity decreased, achieved identity increased; as moratorium identity increased, shame increased; and as moratorium identity increased, attribution perspective decreased. Concerning construct change and racial groups, White students experienced a significant change in shame from pre- to post-course such that their post-course shame score was four points lower than the pre-course shame score. With regard to academic standing, higher attribution perspective scores significantly correlated with retention compared to academic dismissal.

Post-course interviews, utilized in the qualitative phase of the study, revealed several major themes. Probationary freshmen experienced difficulty transitioning from high school to college with regard to insufficient life management skills, underdeveloped academic identity, self-awareness and shame resilience, and hardships that occurred during the semester. Factors contributing to positive growth for the freshmen included the importance of having a champion, improved life management skills, a positive attribution perspective, improved self-awareness and shame resilience, and improved academic identity.

This study is the first to examine change in constructs for probationary freshmen engaged in an academic recovery course, and for which a mixed-methods approach gave voice to the students regarding their experiences. Results reveal how colleges and universities can better support probationary freshmen through the employment of academic recovery courses. The study opens up further research ideas to continue addressing the challenge of retention for this at-risk population.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access