Abstract: Enhancing Academic Persistence through a Cognitive Remediation Intervention (FAST) for College Students with Psychiatric Conditions (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Enhancing Academic Persistence through a Cognitive Remediation Intervention (FAST) for College Students with Psychiatric Conditions

Friday, January 13, 2023
North Mountain, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Michelle G. Mullen, PhD, Senior Research Director, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Shrewsbury, MA
Phyllis Solomon, PhD, Professor / Associate Dean of Research, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background and Purpose: College students with psychiatric conditions are considered to be the most rapidly growing population on campus (Reetz, 2016) with 20% of students reporting a diagnosed psychiatric condition (ACHA-NCHA, 2019). Students with psychiatric conditions have an estimated dropout rate of 86% (Collins & Mowbray, 2005; Kessler et al., 1995), more than three times the drop-out rate of freshmen. This is the highest drop-out rate of any student population including those with other disabilities (Kessler et al., 1995; Salzer, 2012; Arria, et al., 2013). Symptoms and poor grades have historically been assumed to be the reason for attrition, however our recent findings suggests that students may drop-out due to sustained periods of cognitive overload due to over-reliance on working memory and under-refined executive functioning skills (Mullen et al., in progress).

Methods: This study evaluated the efficacy of a 12-session individualized cognitive remediation intervention, Focused Academic Strength Training (FAST), on academic persistence of enrolled college students with psychiatric conditions (n=76). FAST targets executive functioning skills, specifically prospective memory, attention, learning and memory, and problem solving. Self-efficacy as a mediator was examined. Posthoc research questions explored FAST’s impact on working memory, attention and academic persistence. This study is an intent-to-treat, secondary analysis of a longitudinal, randomized control trial of college students randomized to participate in FAST or control condition. Transcripts were collected at baseline and 2nd semester and self-efficacy and cognition scores were collected at baseline and 1st follow-up.

Results: Generalized Estimating Equation analyses showed participants in the FAST condition were more likely to academically persist at 2nd semester than students in the control condition (p=.045). FAST improved self-efficacy, but self-efficacy did not act as a mediator. FAST had a large (d=.79) and medium (d=.72) effect size on working memory and attention, respectively, but were not significant. After adding working memory and attention as additional predictors of academic persistence, FAST approached significance (p=.061), but its effect size increased (d=1.063).

Conclusions & Implications: This presentation will focus on how the results of this study will help to reconceptualize the reasons for attrition as well as develop and refine services to enhance academic persistence of college students with psychiatric conditions.