Overarching Theories and Models

These theories and models span the entire student experience and are sometimes part of a lifelong experience. They are related to the areas of identity development, change and life transitions, and student persistence.


Baxter Magolda's Theory of Self-Authorship

Baxter Magolda's Theory of Self-Authorship

Based on William Perry's work, this theory addresses a student's ability to define their own beliefs, identity, and social relationships. Guided by three foundational questions: How do I know, Who am I, and What kind of relationship do I want to construct with others; the Theory of Self-Authorship espouses four phases on the journey towards self-definition.

  • Baxter Magolda, M.B. (1992). Knowing and reasoning in college: Gender-related patterns in students' intellectual development. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2001). Making their own way: Narratives for transforming higher education to promote self-development. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Chickering's Theory of Identity Development

Describes the process students in college go through in developing and understanding their identity: developing competence, managing emotions, moving through autonomy toward interdependence, developing mature interpersonal relationships, establishing identity, developing purpose, and developing integrity.

  • Chickering, A. W., (1969). Education and identity. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Chickering, A. W., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Erikson's Identity Development Theory

Identifies eight chronological stages of human development that occur over a person's lifetime. Stages are influenced by a person's environment, culture, and nature. Each stage features a crisis, or "turning point" that must be resolved to a degree in order to successfully approach the next stage.

  • Erikson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and society (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.
  • Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: Norton.
  • Erikson, E. H. (1980). Identity and the life cycle. New York: Norton. (Original work published 1959).
Intentional Change Theory

Richard Boyatzis, PhD

Suggests that change, particularly when it is intentional, is attainable at all levels of human/social interaction (e.g., individual, team, organization, community). Describes five steps for making lasting change within oneself: discover your ideal self; discover your real self; create your learning agenda; experiment with and practice new habits; and get support.

  • Boyatzis, R. E. (2006). An overview of intentional change from a complexity perspective. Journal of Management Development, 25(7), 607-623.
Did you know? Richard Boyatzis, PhD, is a professor in the Organizational Behavior Department in the Weatherhead School of Management. Read more at weatherhead.case.edu >
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Identifies five tiers of human needs: physiological, safety, belonging and love, esteem, and self-actualization. Basic needs must be satisfied before higher level needs emerge.

  • Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.
Theory of Moral Development

Built upon Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development, this theory includes three levels of moral reasoning that are based upon consequences, social norms, and personal ethical principles/perspectives.

  • Kohlberg, L. (1958). The development of modes of moral thinking and choice in the years ten to sixteen. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Chicago.
Theory of Women's Moral Development

Theory of Women's Moral Development

Describes three levels of ethical and moral development of women: orientation to individual survival, goodness as self-sacrifice, and the morality of nonviolence. It also explains the transitions between each level. Theory asserts women view care and responsibility to others and relationships as critical foundations in decision making.

  • Gilligan, C. (1977). In a different voice: Women's conception of self and morality. Harvard Educational Review, 47, 481-517.
Tinto's Theory of Student Departure

Based on the work of Emile Durkheim and Arnold Van Gennep, this theory suggests that student departure is dependent upon students' level of academic and social engagement, integration into the university, and the university's commitment to student success.

  • Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Transition Theory

Based on the work of Nancy Schlossberg, this theory explains the transitions adults experience during major life events and identifies four factors that influence how they cope during these transitions: situation, self, supports, and strategies. Transitions include changes in roles, relationships, routines and/or assumptions. This theory is further tailored to students in terms of their psychosocial, cognitive, emotional, ethical and social development.

  • Schlossberg, N. K. (1984). Counseling adults in transition. New York, NY: Springer.
  • Schlossberg, N., Lynch, A. & Chickering, A. (1989). Improving higher education environments for adults: Responsive programs and services from entry to departure. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Goodman, J., Schlossberg, N. K, & Anderson, M. L., (2006). Counseling adults in transition (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Springer.
  • Anderson, M., Goodman, J., & Schlossberg, N. (2012). Counseling adults in transition: Linking Schlossberg's theory with practice in a diverse world (4th ed.). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company, LLC.

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