The Reasons Why Students Go To College Matter

Share Button

The reasons students go to college may affect the odds that they will do well there, a new study finds. Scott Jaschik of the website Inside Higher Ed reports:

“The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Rochester and published in The Journal of College Student Development, found that students motivated by a desire for autonomy and competence tended to earn higher grades and show a greater likelihood of persistence than did other students.

The study comes at a time when many researchers are exploring the qualities that make some students more likely than others (of similar socioeconomic backgrounds and academic preparation) to succeed. Gallup researchers, for example, are reporting that students who hope they will succeed (as measured by, among other things, the ability to set goals and develop plans to achieve them) are more likely than others to succeed.

The Rochester researchers focus instead on ‘self-determination theory,’ in which the reasons students seek a college education could affect their chances of success. In several instances, the researchers found that the impact of different motivations varied by socioeconomic group.

For instance, wealthier students appeared more likely than low-income students to achieve success based on their interest in studying certain subject areas. It’s not that low-income students don’t want to study various areas, but their motivation for enrolling in college may be more related to a desire to improve their financial situation, and that has a strong impact on their success.

And while much previous research has suggested that students who form social connections on campus are more likely to be retained, this study found that students who place a high priority (in their decision to go to college) on meeting and interacting with peers tend to earn lower grades than do students for whom that is a lesser motivation. The negative impact is greater for males than for females.”

Doug Guiffrida, one of the authors of the study, suggests that the findings could be used to guide the counseling of specific students. For students who place a high priority on economic advancement, advisers could emphasize the relationship between their studies and their later likely economic success. For students who are focused (perhaps too focused) on meeting people, advisers could warn against too much socializing. (Read more here.)

I wonder, too, if there might be a way to encourage in students “a desire for autonomy and competence,” as well as “an interest in studying certain subject areas”?

Share Button

One Response to “The Reasons Why Students Go To College Matter”

  1. EssaySnark says:

    Wow. In their MBA applications, so many applicants cite interest in “the alumni network” and advancing their careers (more $$) as their primary motivations. Rarely do we see anyone say they’re interested in actually learning anything. (We do MBA admissions consulting, we see a lot of essays.)

Leave a Reply

Sign up for The Brilliant Report, a monthly newsletter full of the latest findings on how to learn smarter:

Close