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Chickering's Psychosocial Theory of Student Development

Retrieved on May 1, 2008 from:
University of Texas Dallas, Office of Undergraduate Education
webpage last updated April 25, 2008

Perhaps the most widely known and applied theory of student development is Arthur Chickering's psychosocial model. Based on Eric Erikson's identity vs. identity confusion stage of development, Chickering proposed seven vectors along which traditionally aged college students develop. These seven vectors of development are general tasks of identity resolution.

Vector 1: Developing Competence

  1. intellectual competence
    1. knowledge acquisition;
    2. critical thinking skills;
    3. capacity for analysis, synthesis, evaluation, creation of ideas
  2. physical and manual competence
    1. use bodies to master previously unattainable skills
  3. social / interpersonal competence
    1. interactive / communication skills
Developing competence gives the student an increasing capability to manage a variety of social situations from talking in class to meeting strangers. Without gaining some of the confidence maturation along this vector provides, maturation along sequential vectors may be difficult.

Vector 2: Managing Emotions
  1. increasing awareness of one's feelings
    1. become aware of range and variety of impulses pushing from within
  2. integration of feelings, which allows flexible control and expression
    1. tries to find new modes of expression;
    2. assess consequences;
    3. know how to handle different feelings;
    4. define what will be expressed to whom
Students' limited ability to manage emotions is often reflected in the common problems of apartment damage, roommate conflict, exploitative sexual encounters, substance abuse, and excessive academic anxiety.

Vector 3: Developing Autonomy
  1. establishing emotional autonomy
    1. decreasing need for reassurance, affection, and approval / strokes;
    2. environments permitting self-regulation start process
  2. attaining instrumental autonomy
    1. ability to make plans for reaching goals;
    2. be mobile in relation to one's desires;
    3. self-directedness / solve own problems;
    4. ability to identify resources;
    5. use systematic problem solving methods
  3. recognition of one's interdependence
    1. follows only after independent stance
Students' must be able to trust in their abilities and feelings as valid sources of information in order to mature along this vector.

Vector 4: Establishing Identity

  1. some growth along first three vectors prerequisite
  2. ability to integrate many facets of one's experience
  3. negotiate realistic and stable self-image
  4. change is perceptual and attitudinal
  5. encourages experimentation in realms where decisions are required: relationships, purpose, and integrity
  6. know kinds of experiences preferred
Vector 5: Freeing Interpersonal Relationships
  1. increased tolerance for and acceptance of differences between individuals
  2. increased capacity for mature and intimate relationships
  3. more reciprocal and empathetic
Vector 6: Developing Purpose
  1. direction for one's life through assessment and clarification of interests, educational and career options, and lifestyle preferences
  2. reflects and integrated with sense of identity
Vector 7: Developing Integrity
  1. defining set of values to guide actions
    1. humanizing of values
      1. shift from literal doctrine set of beliefs to awareness of relativity of values
    2. personalizing of values
      1. personal code reflecting personal assessment and direction serving as flexible guide to behavior
    3. congruence between beliefs and behavior
      1. congruence between values and actions;
      2. viewing values from post-conventional level of morality
Maturation Through Vectors
Chickering's theory states that students progress through the first three vectors simultaneously during the freshman and sophomore years. Some progression along the first three vectors is a prerequisite for the fourth vector. Students generally progress through the fourth vector during their sophomore and junior years. During the junior and senior years students progress simultaneously through the last three vectors. Students progress through the vectors at different rates and may recycle through some vectors. Development is not simply a maturation process, but requires stimulation through challenge and support.

Components of college environment influencing student development:
  1. Clarity and Consistency of Objective
  2. Size of Institution
    1. as redundancy increases development decreases
  3. Curriculum, Teaching and Evaluation
    1. when memorization is fostered, development is not;
    2. when choice and flexibility are offered development is fostered
  4. Living Arrangements
    1. can foster or inhibit development
  5. Faculty and Administration
    1. friendly, frequent student-faculty interaction in diverse situations fosters development
  6. Friends, Groups, and Student Culture
    1. amplifies or attenuates impact of curriculum, teaching, evaluation, living/housing, and student/faculty relationships
Major Experiences Central to Developmental Change
  1. Engage student in making choices
  2. Require interaction with diverse individuals and ideas
  3. Involve students in direct and varied experiences
  4. Involve students in solving complex intellectual and social problems without demand for conformity to authority's view
  5. Involve students in receiving feedback and making objective self-assessments
Chickering also addresses the theory of Mattering vs. Marginality which simply put states that if students believe, whether right or wrong, that they matter to someone else, that they are the object of someone else's attention, and that others care about and appreciate them, they are far more likely to persist and succeed. If students do not feel anyone cares about them or their success, if they feel ignored by the mainstream and not accepted, they will fee marginal, and, therefore, are much less likely to succeed in college.