mance. Bowen and Bok (1998) note that despite their efforts to account statistically for racial and ethnic differences in family socioeconomic background, students’ academic performance is likely to be affected by family attributes that are difficult to measure. “College grades,” they write, “may well be less affected by family income and parental education … than they are by the number of books at home, opportunities to travel, better secondary schooling, the nature of the conversation around the dinner table, and more generally, parental involvement in their children’s education” (Bowen and Bok, 1998, p. 80). Students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, more often non-URM students, benefit disproportionately from these influences.
In addition to educational and socioeconomic inequities between United States racial and ethnic groups, the poorer performance of minority students on standardized tests, and their lower academic performance than would be expected on the basis of these tests, may also be traced to experiences of URM students in higher education and HPEI settings. Bowen and Bok (1998) note that these explanations “range from … psychological theories to assertions about discrimination by faculty members, low motivation on the part of [URM] students, special problems of adjusting to predominantly white environments, and poorly conceived institutional policies that at best accept and at worse encourage lower academic aspirations by [URM] students” (Bowen and Bok, 1998, p. 81).
URM students, particularly those that are a visible yet small minority on college and HPEI campuses, may experience academic pressure or feelings of insecurity, and especially so in contexts where URM students have been historically excluded. Pressures to perform as well as non-URM students and manage stress stemming from campus racial tensions have been found to be negatively associated with URM undergraduate students’ academic performance, after controlling for standardized test scores and prior academic performance in college (Smedley et al., 1993). Other researchers suggest that peer group influences, particularly within African American peer groups, may cause minority students to be less invested in academic performance and to “experience inordinate ambivalence and affective dissonance in regard to academic effort and success” (Fordham and Ogbu, 1986, p. 177).
Among the most extensively studied social and psychological factors affecting URM academic and test-taking performance is research on “stereotype threat.” Beginning with the work of Claude Steele and colleagues (Steele, 1997; Steele and Aronson, 1995), psychologists have found that African Americans and other groups whose intellectual abilities are stigma-