Behavioral Health, Mental Health, Substance Abuse
Measuring Obstacles to Academic Success: Development of the "MOSAIC"
(School of Public Health (UMD) Behavioral and Community Health Faculty)
Objectives: Academic assistance centers are challenged by the lack of systematic tools that measure the variety of student barriers that impede academic success. Moreover, while many academic barriers are well recognized (e.g., attention difficulties, financial circumstances), the possible role of trauma has been neglected in comparison with other barriers. This study analyzed a large dataset (n=3,893) of a representative sample of undergraduates to identify dimensions of academic barriers, including trauma. Approach: A 26-item scale was developed by combining 13 items from an existing survey of academic barriers with 13 new items on mental health problems, social relationships, and trauma. The scale was administered as part of a larger online survey to a random sample of full-time undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 25 at one university (41% response rate). Principal-axis factor analysis followed by both Varimax and Promax rotations was used to examine the relationships among the items. Findings: The final factor solution was composed of 14 items from the original 26 items that loaded onto three factors: Trauma, Mental Health, and Study Behaviors. The three factors accounted for 45.9% of the total variance. Interestingly, the items representing Trauma and Mental Health barriers to academic success loaded onto separate factors. The Trauma scale was weakly correlated with the Mental Health and Study Behaviors scales (r=.30 and r=.19, respectively). The Mental Health scale was moderately correlated with the Study Behaviors scale (r=.50). Fifteen percent (n=546) of participants experienced at least one of the academic barriers in the Trauma factor (i.e., sexual assault, relationship violence, childhood trauma, or other traumas). Conclusions and Public Health Significance: The 14-item MOSAIC scale identified by this analysis provides the foundation for a novel and comprehensive academic support tool that could be used to measure and address barriers to student success. The contribution of trauma as an academic barrier is noteworthy and supports the notion that screening for prior life trauma should be considered within academic support services.