Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Dr. Jane Jensen


Institutions of higher education have long worked to understand factors that influence or predict student success and degree completion. Childhood experiences including potential exposure to toxic stress have been found to impact student success in K-12 schools yet have rarely been evaluated among undergraduates. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and undergraduate degree completion among a random sample of 1,894 students at a state-funded university in the US. Participants completed a web-based survey assessing ACEs in spring 2015. Results from the survey were linked to student academic records for each semester enrolled, spanning from 2008-2020. Chi-square tests and logistic regression models were used. A significant dose-response relationship between ACE score and degree completion was identified. Final analysis included the controls: gender, state residency, first-generation status, race, a composite variable of high school GPA and ACT, academic classification, first-year cumulative GPA, history of part-time enrollment, transfer status, and Greek affiliation. When evaluating the outcome of ever completing a bachelor’s degree, students with an ACE score of 2-3 were 74% more likely not to graduate when compared to students with an ACE score of zero. Further, students with an ACE score of four or higher were 91% more likely not to complete their degree. Four- and six-year graduation rates found similar trends. This study has implications for a variety of student support services. Future projects could partner with these groups to assess the effectiveness of resiliency programming in supporting student success.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

The original data collection was conducted through a grant funded by the National Institute of Health (5R21HD069897) 2012-2015.

Available for download on Saturday, May 13, 2023