College Students Growth in Emotional Intelligence

Liza Johnson, Ed.D., Director of Personal Empowerment, University of Dubuque

Kevin Cattani, Ph.D., Professor of Sport Marketing and Management, University of Dubuque

Jeffery Haverland, Ed.D., Associate Professor of Teacher Education, University of Dubuque

Today there are a variety of demanding issues and stressors that students need to cope with to navigate college successfully. For example, they may face issues such as homesickness, anxiety, stress, relationship issues, depression, and failure. The need for students to develop social and emotional skills was identified as a necessity decades ago, but it was not until the COVID-19 pandemic that higher education started to pay closer attention. Nationwide, there is increased interest in including meaningful social emotional learning (SEL) on college campuses to increase student retention, engagement, and personal and professional success. However, programs that encourage SEL curriculum and programming on campus tend to be “researcher-initiated, relatively brief interventions that are disconnected from the institutions’ curricula, staff, and goals” (Conley, 2015, p. 208). To make SEL an effective intervention on college campuses, it needs to be internal and systemic.

In 2007, the University of Dubuque, a regionally accredited private institution, initiated a program called Personal Empowerment by offering professional development to a group of the institution’s faculty and staff. As of 2022, this personal empowerment offering has evolved into four divisions:

  1. A three-credit hour undergraduate student course fulfilling a general education requirement
  2. A sixteen-week professional development workshop offered to faculty, staff, and graduate assistants
  3. A certification program to train faculty and staff to facilitate and implement the SEL curriculum
  4. A community partnership providing SEL support and consultation to the Dubuque Police Department, Dubuque City Government, and the Dubuque School District

Traditionally, schools place less attention on non-cognitive, emotional needs of students due to the pressure of standardized testing and accountability (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, Schellinger, 2011). Due to this push and other reasons such as lack of resources, the research on implementation and explicit teaching of social emotional competencies in post-secondary students is limited. The question becomes, do college students have the emotional tools they need to thrive?

During a one-year period (spring 2021 – spring 2022), undergraduate students taking the personal empowerment course are being assessed to determine the existence of a positive behavioral outcome based on explicit teachings of the SEL instruction. This research draws from a mixed methods approach using quantitative data from the Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence assessment (SEI) and the Brain Brief Profile assessments, and qualitative focus groups.

In general, SEL in higher education is a new concept with countless opportunities for further development. The goals of the research team are to provide quantitative and qualitative data to support SEL awareness in post-secondary education and to potentially offer a SEL model that could be utilized in higher education institutions.

Conley, C. S. (2015). SEL in higher education. In J. A. Durlak, C. E. Domitrovich, R. P. Weissberg, & T. P. Gullotta (Eds.), Handbook of social and emotional learning: Research and practice (pp. 197-212). New York, NY: Guilford Press

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.