Currents in a Stream: College Student Identities and Ethnic Identities and Their Relationship with Self-Esteem, Efficacy, and Grade Point Average in an Urban University


  • *Direct correspondence to Prof. Charles Jaret, Department of Sociology, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30303 〈〉. The first author will share all data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. The authors thank Alexis Bender, Melissa Hayes, and Pamela Daniels for their valuable research assistance and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.


Objectives. We investigate how college student identities and ethnic identities vary among black, white, and Asian students and among immigrant, second-, and third-generation students at a large public urban university (in counterpoint to recent studies at highly selective schools). In addition, we explore how those identities are related to college students' sense of self-esteem and efficacy and their academic performance.

Methods. We use survey data from a sample (N=652) of students attending a large diverse public urban university to create new indexes for several dimensions of college identity and ethnic identity and use existing self-esteem and efficacy indexes to compare black, white, and Asian students, as well as immigrant, second-generation, and third-generation students.

Results. Among several significant identity differences, we find: (1) whites are lower than blacks on college identity indexes, and immigrant students are higher than subsequent-generation students on college student identity measures; (2) whites are lower than blacks and Asians on ethnic identity measures; only the ethnic activities index declines linearly from immigrant to second- to third-generation students; (3) blacks have higher self-esteem and efficacy than whites or Asians; whites have higher GPAs than blacks or Asians, while immigrant students have higher GPAs than third-generation students; and (4) at least one college student identity dimension and one ethnic identity dimension is related to self-esteem, efficacy, and GPA.

Conclusions. How young adults conceive of themselves as college students and the way they formulate their own racial-ethnic identities is related to their self-esteem, efficacy, and academic performance. Moreover, the pattern that these relationships take is somewhat different at a large diverse public urban university than at highly selective universities.