Previous tracking of TPP alumni had shown very high levels of college attainment (The Possibility Project, n.d.). TPP participants in the study continued this trend but did not go to college in significantly greater numbers than the comparison group. TPP juniors were, however, more likely to have discussed college with parents, teachers, or counsellors (92% vs. 50%, p < .05) as were TPP sophomores (86% vs. 25%, p < .01). Seniors reported a higher mean number of types of preparatory activity (6 vs. 4, p < .05) and were more likely to have visited a college campus (17% vs. 9%, p < .05).
In other words, the participants seem to be self-selecting for people who are likely to attend college. There is, however, some evidence that experiences of trauma may be a factor in the program impact on college attainment. Ten (29%) of the 34 TPP participants interviewed explicitly attributed improved academic performance, college attainment, or aspirations for college to involvement in TPP. Many also said that they had never told their friends outside of the program about their personal traumas. As previously discussed, TPP participants and their friends in the comparison group resembled each other in many respects, but the study did not measure experiences of trauma. If the two groups were not equivalent on that factor, the program may be helping participants who are struggling with after-effects of trauma to achieve academic success. Further research would be required to determine if that is the case.
Discussion of Study Findings
The finding concerning college attainment was surprising given the high level of college attendance. It was not, however, surprising in the context of the program recruitment and the other study findings. There was no significant difference in general self-efficacy between the treatment and comparison groups, but both groups seemed to have high scores on this measure. The treatment group mean was 4.1 on a 1-5 scale. Age norms for adolescents are not available for the measure, limiting conclusions that can be drawn, but this group does not seem to have a low sense of general self-efficacy. Thar makes sense for a program that focuses on social action. Indeed, the TPP recruiting pitch given at various New York City high schools began, “Do you want to change the world?” Not surprisingly, there was also no significant change in asserting influence for young people who decided to join a program “to change the world”.
For the treatment effects that were found, the interview themes triangulated to the early-/ post-program survey findings: openness to diversity and empathy align with the treatment effect on providing emotional support for others, self-acceptance and confidence align with self-disclosure to friends, and both sets of data found evidence for conflict resolution. Overall, the findings from the interviews also align with the emphasis on communication skills that the participants reported as the most important outcome of the program in the post-program surveys.
The interview data also added information about the ways TPP participants understood these effects. For example, empathy tended to be discussed as openness to diversity, both diversity of social position (race, economics, and culture) and diversity of personal experience. Participants often discussed willingness to communicate in relation to better understanding others’ perspectives, not feeling alone in facing difficulties, being less judgemental, and building more meaningful relationships. Thus, the participants did not just learn discrete skills but also developed a broader view of the world. That worldview included the recognition that many people face difficulties that are not immediately apparent and that meaningful relationships can develop with people who have different backgrounds and face different challenges.
In summary, then, based on these findings, TPP attracts young people who tend to be highly motivated and generally confident in spite of often struggling with severely traumatic experiences. They learn a range of social-emotional and communication skills through an intensive program in which they integrate those skills into a worldview concerning openness and diversity. Their abilities to understand and empathise with other people rise as does their ability to communicate confidently, building on their sense of self-efficacy. These new abilities, in addition to a conflict resolution model explicitly taught in TPP, lead to being able to anticipate and diffuse conflicts more effectively.