The present study examined the Big Five factor model of personality and cognitive ability as predictors of academic performance in a sample of non-traditional student STEM majors (n = 342) at a Hispanic-serving two-year college in the United States. Cognitive ability, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness significantly predicted academic performance; however, main effects of Conscientiousness and Agreeableness were no longer significant after accounting for the interaction of Agreeableness with cognitive ability. Specifically, a significant interaction was observed on Agreeableness for individuals with higher cognitive ability (+1 SD). Findings indicate non-traditional STEM students high in cognitive ability may be influenced negatively in academic performance if they possess the trait of Agreeableness. This finding has implications for how personality moderates student academic performance within a non-traditional population quite differently from findings in other studies that have examined more traditional college-going students. Consequently, the present study suggests the interrelationship between Agreeableness and cognitive ability may be an important feature to consider in future work for two-year colleges attempting to retain and support non-traditional students in pursuit of STEM careers, which is particularly notable given the findings center around those with higher ability.
Personality and cognitive ability as predictors of STEM performance in a Hispanic serving institution
Postsecondary student enrollment, retention, and success in academic performance in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields is a significant concern for colleges and universities across the United States. Hispanic serving institutions (HSIs) consistently have lower enrollment, higher attrition, and lower success rates in STEM (Garcia & Hurtado, 2011; NSF, 2015). At the twoyear college level 37.9% of Hispanic students enrolling in a STEM associate's degree program changed their major to a non-science field from 2003 to 2009, with 39.9% of Hispanic community college STEM students leaving postsecondary education altogether (Chen & Soldner, 2013). Moreover, the problem of student retention and performance in two-year colleges is amplified by academic deficiencies of students, since two-year colleges are mandated to accept virtually anyone desiring an education (Bettinger & Long, 2009). Two-year institutions do not rely on standardized test scores or high school GPA to select students they believe will be successful. Instead, two-year college HSIs must implement and rely on mechanisms that support all incoming students despite academic shortcomings in order to retain and graduate as many students as possible in STEM programs. This is necessary to make STEM programs viable and increase access to an underserved population. For administrators and counselors at twoyear HSIs, scrutinizing the target population for individual differences as antecedent indicators of obstacles in recruitment, retention, and student performance has become fundamental (Alfonso, 2006). Traditionally, student performance in STEM has been related to and partially explained by the following three factors: demographics (Crisp, Nora, & Taggart, 2009), traditional pre-college variables (e.g., high school GPA, SAT, and ACT scores; Kaufman, Agars, & Lopez-Wagner, 2007), and math ability (Crisp et al., 2009; Kokkelenberg & Sinha, 2010; Nicholls, Wolfe, Besterfield-Sacre, & Shuman, 2010; Rohr, 2012). However, additional research has shown that in traditional student populations individual differences in personality traits, specifically the Big Five (Kaufman et al., 2007; McAbee & Oswald, 2013; Vedel, Thomsen, & Larsen, 2015), and cognitive ability are related to student performance at the university level (Ackerman, Kanfer, & Calderwood, 2013; Di Fabio & Palazzeschi, 2009; Robbins et al., 2004). Accordingly, investigating traits that have been shown to be related to STEM performance and retention may prove useful for two-year HSIs that do not have the luxury of setting cut-off scores on traditional pre-college readiness assessments (e.g., SAT and high school GPA) to improve institutional rates of student performance.