Although students who live off-campus comprise over 85% of todays college enrollments (Horn & Nevill, 2006), the body of research on this group is far smaller than that on residential students. Researchers regularly treat commuter students as a homogenous group and largely ignore the significant within-group differences that characterize the population (Jacoby & Garland, 2004). One way to look at the diversity within this group is to study commuter students living in the home of a parent, guardian, or other relative (i.e., dependent); and commuters who live on their own or with others (i.e., independent) (Roe Clark, 2006). This study used data from the Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership to examine within-group differences between dependent and independent commuters on the key college outcome of leadership self-efficacy (Astin & Astin, 2000). Leadership self-efficacy refers to ones confidence in his or her capacity to lead (Murphy, 2002), and often makes the difference as to whether one actually does lead. The study also examined unique predictors of leadership efficacy for each population. Results reflected statistically significant within-group differences with independent commuters, indicating a greater sense of leadership efficacy than their dependent commuter peers. The same three environmental variables emerged as the most significant predictors of leadership efficacy for both groups: socio-cultural conversations with peers, positional leadership roles in college organizations, and employer mentoring. These were complemented by additional predictors unique to each population. This research supports the assertion of commuter student diversity and provides insights into how educational practice can best support their development of self-efficacy for leadership. Funding support for the Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership was provided by the National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs, C. Charles Jackson Foundation, NASPA Foundation, and ACPA Educational Leadership Foundation.
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