The role of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in predicting academic problems among college students

Bria Gresham, Canan Karatekin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: The complex associations between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and academic performance among college students are not well understood. The following aims were examined in this longitudinal study: the direct association of ACEs on academic problems after 4 years without (1) and with accounting for other academic risk factors (2a), the possible mechanisms linking ACEs and academic problems (2b).

PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: First-semester freshmen (N = 268; 71.3% female; M age = 18.30; 76.9% White, 14.6% Asian, 3.7% Black, 2.6% multiracial, 1.1% Native American, and 1.1% other) were recruited from a Midwestern U.S. university.

METHODS: Participants reported their ACEs, intrinsic motivation, psychological distress, and financial status as first-semester freshmen. Administrative records (i.e., SAT/ACT scores, GPA, courses taken not counted toward degree progress, and graduation) were collected prospectively over 4 years. Structural equation modeling was used to test the research aims. Post-hoc analyses without SAT/ACT scores were conducted.

RESULTS: ACEs were associated with academic problems assessed 4 years later, when studied in isolation (β = 0.36, p < .001) but not after adjusting for other risk factors (β = 0.08, p = .278). Psychological distress and SAT/ACT scores during the first semester predicted academic problems 4 years later (β = 0.33 and - 0.38, p < .001). There was an indirect effect of ACEs on academic problems through psychological distress (β = 0.13, p < .001).

CONCLUSIONS: There is a need to expand mental health services and address barriers to utilization on college campuses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105595
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
? We have no conflicts of interest to disclose. There was no funding for this study. The authors would like to thank Peter Radcliffe for his assistance with obtaining administrative data and Rik Lamm and Nidhi Kohli for their methodological contributions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd


  • Academic
  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • College
  • First-generation
  • Mental health

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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