EI and College Student Research Summary

Korrel Kanoy

kkanoy@developmentalassociates.com, (919) 452-7130


Student behaviors and decisions—influenced by their emotional intelligence (EI)—such as amount of study time, alcohol consumption, and involvement in social activities, often better predict ultimate graduation and success than traditional academic predictors such as HSGPA or SAT. And, since emotional intelligence can be taught, you can accomplish two important goals on your campus: 1) enhance retention and graduation, and 2) achieve your mission to help students grow and improve in all phases of their development. 

Student Grades

  • Mann and Kanoy (2010) found that first-year college GPA could be predicted by the following EI scales: optimism, independence (negative predictor), self-regard, impulse control, and problem-solving. They divided students into three groups based on GPA and found
    • The highest-performing students (>3.34) scored higher on the EI skills of assertiveness, stress tolerance and problem solving and lower on independence than middle-performing students (GPA of 2.50-3.34) and higher on assertiveness, stress tolerance, impulse control and problem-solving than the lowest-performing students (<2.50).
    • Mid-performing students scored higher on social responsibility and impulse control than the low-performing students
  • Sparkman and colleagues (2012) in a five-year longitudinal study found the EI skills of self-actualization, social responsibility, and happiness were positive predictors of cumulative GPA and that independence and interpersonal relationship were negative predictors of cumulative GPA.
  • Parker and colleagues (2005) found the EI skills of adaptability, stress management, and interpersonal abilities were strongly correlated with academic success in over 1400 first year students (Parker et al., 2005).
  • Scores on a test of optimism in 500 UPENN freshmen were a better predictor of grades during the first year than SAT scores or high school grades (Schulman, 1995).
  • Significant positive correlations ranging from 0.29 to 0.39 between EI and GPA were found in 304 first-year students from various cohort groups (honors, athletes, transitions, first-year college) at one NC institution (Jaeger, 2004).
  • Song and colleagues (2010) found that both general mental abilities and emotional intelligence contribute in unique ways to predicting academic performance. Emotional intelligence, but not general mental abilities, also predicted the quality of students’ social interaction.
  • Evenson (2008) found that students on the Dean’s List had higher emotional intelligence scores than students on academic probation. 
  • Berenson, Boyles, and Weaver (2008) found that the most significant predictor of grades in online courses was emotional intelligence.

Retention and Graduation

  • Keefer, Parker, and Wood (2012) found that the failure to graduate six years after enrollment for an initial sample of 1015 students could be predicted by lower emotional intelligence scores on interpersonal and stress management domains, even after controlling for high school grades and gender.
  • Parker and his colleagues (2005) examined differences between matched samples (based on gender and ethnicity) of students who withdrew before the second year of study (n=213) and those who enrolled for their second year (n=213). Those who were retained were higher on a significant number of EI characteristics compared with those who withdrew.
  • Kanoy (2011) in a longitudinal study of entering students and graduation four years later found that first-year students who were not retained were lower in impulse control and optimism than first-year students who were retained. Seniors who graduated four years after enrollment were higher than non-graduates on 7 EI skill areas as first-year students including: self-regard, self-actualization, independence, social responsibility, reality testing, impulse control and happiness. There were no differences related to entering academic ability as measured by grades and HS GPA.
  • Sparkman (2012) in a longitudinal project involving 783 college students studied over a 5-year period found social responsibility, followed by impulse control, and empathy were the three strongest positive predictors of graduation. Flexibility was a negative predictor of graduation.
  • Pritchard and Wilson (2003) reported a positive relationship between stress, alcohol use, and attrition. Students with lower stress were more likely to be retained and to use less alcohol.
  • Qualtier and colleagues (2009) found in two different studies that 1) emotional intelligence successfully predicted which students would be retained to year 2 of study and 2) students who show an increase in EI as a result of an intervention program are more likely to persist with their studies.

Teaching and Learning EI in College

  • Incorporating emotional skills content in a College Transition Course enhanced student retention and led to increases in EI functioning for students in the treatment group related to understanding, regulating and harnessing emotions (Schutte & Malouff, 2002). 
  • Leedy and Smith (2012) found that teaching EI skills to first-year students resulted in significant improvement in female students’ EI over the course of the first semester.
  • Chang (2006) found that students in the treatment group who were taught about emotional intelligence and required to create an improvement plan (e.g., increase assertiveness) showed a significant increase in emotional intelligence skills compared with the control group of students.
  • In two different years, students (all male) who participated in a 24-hour emotional intelligence training program reported better psychosocial adjustment than students who did not participate in the program, with positive results persisting for at least 6 months (Ruiz and colleagues, 2012).
  • Martinez and her colleagues (2014) found that students on probation who participated in an EI skills training workshop compared with probationary students who did not participate had a retention rate over 20% higher for the following semester.
  • Carrick (2010) found that a half-day workshop on emotional intelligence combined with an individual coaching session improved students’ emotional intelligence.

Student Leadership, Behaviors, and Decisions

  • Stang (2009) found a strong positive correlation between more well-developed leadership practices as measured by the Student LPI and higher emotional intelligence. Inspiring a shared vision, modeling the way, challenging the process and encouraging the heart all were related to higher emotional intelligence skills.
  • Cavins (2005) measured emotional intelligence, leadership practices, and performance of students enrolled in a four-year leadership development program. Moderate and strong positive relationships were found among the EI skills of self-actualization, social responsibility, empathy, stress tolerance, problem-solving, and optimism and subscales of the Student Leadership Practices Inventory. In particular, the top performers scored higher on 11 of the 21 areas of the emotional intelligence assessment compared with middle and bottom performers. Top and middle performers scored higher than bottom performers on modeling the way, challenging the process, and inspiring a shared vision.
  • Radnitzer (2010) found that self-directed learning readiness was positively correlated with 8 of the 16 emotional intelligence skills measured among a group of students participating in a leadership development program.
  • Wu and Stemler (2008) found that resident assistants with the highest EI scores were rated the more effective in their roles as resident advisors than those with lower EI, as rated by students they served.
  • Schuesner (2002) found that leaders were higher in emotional intelligence than members of campus organizations but that there were no differences in the ELI skills of leaders across different types of campus organizations such as student government or service clubs.
  • Deniz and colleagues (2009) found that students with higher emotional intelligence were less likely to procrastinate their academic work if they scored higher on adaptability and coping with stress.
  • College students were more likely to engage in more frequent heavy episodic drinking and have more alcohol-related problems if they had lower emotional intelligence (Schutte, Malouff, & Hine, 2011).
  • EI scores were significant predictors of alcohol and marijuana use among college students (Claros & Sharma, 2012).
  • Emotional intelligence (EI) but not general intelligence was a predictor of students’ reactivity to stress, with higher EI associated with less stress (Singh & Sharma, 2012)

EI and Preparation for Career Success

The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducts a study every year with employers to query them about skills they most desire in college graduates. Those skills have been virtually unchanged for 10 years with the 2010 top five including:

    • communication skills (assertiveness, emotional expression)
    • analytical abilities (problem-solving)
    • teamwork (social responsibility, interpersonal relationship)
    • technical skills (not EI related)
    • strong work ethic (self-actualization, self-regard, impulse control)
    • The remainder of the top 10 usually includes interpersonal skills, flexibility and adaptability, honesty and integrity, motivation, and organization (NACE 2010).
  • Boyatzis and Saatoioglu (2008), in their 20-year longitudinal study, found that MBA students’ emotional intelligence could be improved and sustained over at least 7 years’ time by including EI instruction in the graduate program.
  • Students’ service-learning experiences tapped and fostered the personal and social-emotional intelligence competencies associated with professional effectiveness (Manring, 2012).
  • Samples and Regent (2010) found that emotional intelligence was related to academic success of students planning to go into the ministry while their level of spiritual maturity did not predict academic success.


Berenson, R., Boyles, G., & Weaver, A. (2008). Emotional intelligence as a predictor of college success in online Learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(2), 17.

Boyatzis, R. E. & Saatoioglu, A. (2008). A 20-year view of trying to develop emotional, social and cognitive intelligence competencies in graduate management education, Journal of Management Development, 27(1), 92-108.

Carrick, L. A. (2010). Understanding the impact of a half-day learning intervention on emotional intelligence: An exploratory study. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania).

Cavins, B. (2005). The relationships between emotional-social intelligence and leadership practices among college student leaders. (Doctoral dissertation, Bowling Green State University).

Chang, K.B. T. (2006). Can we teach emotional intelligence? (Doctoral dissertation, University of Hawaii at Manoa).

Claros, E., & Sharma, M. (2012). The relationship between emotional intelligence and abuse of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco among college students. Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education, 56(1), 8-37.

Deniz, M., Tras, Z., Aydogan, D. (2009). An investigation of academic probation, locus of control, and emotional ‘Intelligence. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 9(2), 623-632.

Evenson, E. (2008). Examining the relationship between emotional intelligence and college student success. Dissertation Abstracts International, Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 68,9-B, 6301.

Jaeger, A. (February 2004) First-year students and academic success. Paper presented at the National Conference for the First-Year Experience.

Kanoy, K. (2011). Emotional intelligence and graduation four years later. Unpublished manuscript, William Peace University. Raleigh, NC.

Keefer, K. V., Parker, J.D., & Wood, L. (2012). Trait emotional intelligence and university graduation outcomes usinglatent profile analysis to identify students at risk for degree noncompletion. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment. 30(4), 402-413.

Leedy, G. M., & Smith, J. E. (2012) Development of emotional intelligence of first-year undergraduate students in a frontier state. College Student Journal. 2012, 46(4), 795-804.

Mann, D. & Kanoy, K. (February 2010). The EQ factor in student retention and success: From theory to practice. Paper presented at the annual First Year Experience Conference, Denver, CO.

Manring, S. L. (2012). Tapping and fostering students’ emotional intelligence through service-learning. Journal of Behavioral & Applied Management, 13, 3, 168-185.

Martinez, S., Arnold, C., Erjavec P., & Lopez, L. (February 2014). Emotional intelligence as a predictor of academic success for probationary students. Paper presented at the National Conference for the First-Year Experience. San Diego, CA.

National Association of Colleges and Employers, Job Outlook 2010, www.naceweb.org (retrieved October 2011).

Parker, J., Duffy, J., Wood, L.M., Bond, B. J., & Hogan, M.J. (2005). Academic achievement and emotional intelligence: Predicting the successful transition from high school to university. Journal of the First Year Experience and Students in Transition, 17(1), 67-78.

Parker, J. D., Hogan, M. J., Eastabrook, J.M., Oke, A., & Wood, L. M (2005). Emotional intelligence and student retention: Predicting the successful transition from high school to university. Personality and Individual Differences, 41(7), 1329-1336.

Pritchard, M. & Wilson, G. (2003). Using emotional and social factors to predict student success. Journal of College Student Development, 44(1), 18-28.

Qualitier, P. Whiteley, H., Morley, A. & Dudiak, H. (2009) The role of emotional intelligence in the decision to persist with academic studies in higher education. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 14(3), 219-231.

Radnitzer, K. D. (2010). Enhancing emotional intelligence and self-directed learning readiness among college students participating in a leadership development program. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).

Ruiz-Aranda, D., Salguero, J. M., Cabello, R., Palomera, R. Fernández-Berrocal, P. Can an emotional intelligence program improve adolescents’ psychosocial adjustments: Results from the INTEMO Project. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 40(8), 1373-1379. 

Samples, G. & Regent, U. (2010). Emotional intelligence and academic success among Bible College students. Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 70, 8-A, 2940.

Schulman, P. (1995). Explanatory style and achievement in school and work. In G. Buchanan & M. Seligman (Eds.) Explanatory Style. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Schutte, N. & Malouff, J. (2002) Incorporating emotional skills content in a college transition course enhances Retention. Journal of the First-Year Experience, 14 (1), 7-21.

Schutte, N. Malouff, J. & Hine, D. (2011). The association of ability and trait emotional intelligence with alcohol problems. Addiction Theory and Research, 19 (3), 260-265.

Scheusner, H. (2002). Emotional intelligence among leaders and non-leaders in campus organizations (Doctoral dissertation, University Libraries, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).

Singh, Y. & Sharma, R. (2012).Relationship between general intelligence, emotional Intelligence, stress levels and stress reactivity. Annals of Neurosciences, 19 (3).

Song, L. , Huang, G., Peng, K., Law, K., Wong, C., & Chen, Z. (2010). The differential effect of general mental ability and emotional intelligence on academic performance and social interactions. Intelligence, 38(1), 137-143.

Sparkman, L. A., Maulding, W. S., Roberts, J. G. (2012). Non-cognitive predictors of student success in college. College Student Journal, 46(3), 642-652.

Stang, M. (2009). A study of the relationship between the leadership styles and emotional intelligence of residential student leaders. (Doctoraldissertation, Pepperdine University).

Wu, M., & Stemler, S. (2008). Resident advisor general intelligence, emotional intelligence, personality dimensions, And internal belief characteristics as predictors of rated performance. NASPA Journal, 45, 4, 528-559.

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