In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Take It PersonallyIncorporating Personality Traits as Input Covariates in College Impact Research
  • Matthew J. Mayhew (bio), Benjamin S. Selznick (bio), Marc A. Lo (bio), and Stephen J. Vassallo (bio)

The primary aim of college impact research is to isolate the extent to which outcomes associated with college attendance are influenced by higher education experiences. As part of this process, researchers draw from theory and the literature base to identify variables that have been shown to influence both the higher education experience and the outcome of interest. One theoretical construct mostly absent from analytic models intended to examine the effect of any given x on any given y is personality, which is surprising given the range of its influence on college impact conversations (e.g., Pike, 2006a, 2006b; Tinto, 1993).

The purpose of this brief is to highlight the use of personality traits for their explanatory power in a series of studies designed to examine the relationship between a specific set of higher educational experiences and a particular student outcome, intention to innovate in an entrepreneurial capacity. To begin, we review theories of personality and provide a brief overview of the higher education literature that addresses the role personality plays in understanding college and its impact on students. We then discuss the benefit of using personality traits as inputs in related research efforts and consider implications for future college impact scholarship, especially in cross-cultural contexts.


The Five Factor Model (FFM) (Costa & McCrae, 1992; McCrae & Costa, 1997, 1999) has been established as the preeminent theoretical framework for understanding personality over the past 20 years (John & Srivastava, 1999). The literature, which builds on trait psychology, suggests that although different personality traits may have different terms or be represented to different degrees across cultures, the traits tend to map onto one common model (e.g., Church, 2009; Costa & McCrae, 2006; John & Srivastava, 1999; McCrae, 2011). Drawing on this literature base, the FFM posits five common, measurable traits that tend to be translatable into different cultural contexts: extraversion; openness; agreeableness; neuroticism/emotional stability; and conscientiousness (McCrae & John, 1992).

As a dimension for higher education inquiry, personality has been included mostly on the periphery of theories, models, and typologies used to explore student outcomes. For example, Tinto (1993) discussed the [End Page 880] limited role personality takes in explaining student departure: “It bears repeating here that there is little evidence to support the notion that, beyond issues of commitment or motivation, early leavers have a unique personality profile” (p. 44). Another tangential way in which personality has been examined is through typologies that higher education scholars use to describe student perceptions such as expectations of college (e.g., Holland, 1997; Pike, 2006a, 2006b) and life satisfaction (Lounsbury, Saudargas, Gibson, & Leong, 2005). Finally, practitioners have used personality-based inventories and measures to assess students and help them make sense of their experiences (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2009). As Evans et al. (2009) suggest, personality traits might interact with other individual attributes to influence additional aspects of student development during college and thus might be beneficial for faculty and student-facing staff to consider when working with college populations.

Considering the sustained interest in examining personality as a construct and its cultural transferability, our study advances the conversation about the role of personality in higher education research. We position the samples used in these studies as examples of research that effectively used personality as a predictive covariate.


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Table 1.

Descriptive Statistics for Gender and Race Variables

a Race means may be cumulatively greater than 1.00 as respondents could select multiple categories.

Guided by Baumol’s (2010) scholarship on innovation and Ajzen’s (1991) theory of planned behavior, we examined the influ ence of higher educational experiences on students’ intentions to innovate in an entrepre neurial capacity. Researchers exploring entrepreneurship education have questioned whether the emergence of entrepreneurship and its associated skills is a function of personality, environment, or a combination (Zhao & Seibert, 2006). As a result, we used Astin’s (1993) I-E-O model to study entrepreneurial [End Page 881] innovation intention as a function of a given set of...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 880-885
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.