- Understanding the relationship between motivation, academic achievement, and persistence may help higher education administrators develop plans for increasing student engagement and student success. Prior research on higher education indicated connections between motivation, academic achievement, and persistence, but there has been limited research that relates these concepts to the rural community college setting.
The purpose of this study was to examine the motivation to pursue higher education by rural community college students as well as the relationship between motivation, academic achievement, and persistence. Furthermore, it was important to assess the way student variables may moderate the relationship between motivation, academic achievement, and persistence, including demographic characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, childhood residence, and socioeconomic status as well as participation characteristics such as enrollment status and Oregon Promise program participation.
The study used a quantitative approach to analyze the motivating factors of pursuing higher education as well as how these factors affect the academic success of students. The dependent outcomes of the study included academic achievement (measured by grade point average) and intention to persist. Self-determination theory provided the guiding theoretical perspective for the study.
Through a descriptive design, the researcher studied various extrinsic and intrinsic motivating factors that led rural community college students to pursue higher education. In addition, the researcher measured the academic achievement and the intent to persist of these students in order to consider the relationship between motivation, academic achievement, and persistence within higher education. The unit of analysis involved individual students at rural community colleges in Oregon. Data were collected using a web-based questionnaire, which was sent one time in the fall term 2017 to these students. Three community colleges in Oregon participated in the study and sent the study information, including the link to the web-based questionnaire, via email to their students. The web-based questionnaire included demographic items, student participation items, self-reported grade point average, items related to intention to persist as well as the Competence Motivation Scale, the Need for Relatedness at College Questionnaire, and the Autonomous Motivation Scale. More than 700 students responded to the survey; however, data cleaning revealed only 346 usable cases that included both of the dependent variables, grade point average and intention to persist.
In order to analyze the data, the following techniques were used. Data cleaning was conducted in Microsoft Excel. Descriptive data analysis was completed in EQS – Structural Equation Modeling Software (Bentler, 2006) and IBM SPSS (2018). Exploratory factor analyses and correlational analyses were also performed on the dataset. EQS – Structural Equation Modeling Software was used to perform structural equation modeling in order to test the structural pathways between motivational orientation, academic achievement, and persistence, as well as to test for moderation effects by assessing the first of the hypothesized model for the entire sample of students as well as by the student moderating variables.
The results of the data were described by the overall model and moderated models. The standardized coefficient for the path between competence motivational orientation and intention to persist as well as competence and grade point average were positive and significant, indicating that students who attended college motivated by the need for competence were more likely to report intentions to persist and were more likely to achieve higher grade point averages. On the other hand, the standardized coefficient for the path between autonomy motivational orientation and grade point average was negative and significant, indicating that students who attended college to fulfill needs for autonomy were less likely to achieve higher grade point averages. In addition, there were several significant findings from the moderated models. According to the results of the free versus constrained nested comparison, socioeconomic status (higher versus lower) and Oregon Promise participation (received grant versus did not receive grant) moderated at least one of the pathways in the overall model. Examination of the critical ratio for differences between parameters in the configural model showed significant differences in the socioeconomic status model (lower versus higher socioeconomic status) and Oregon Promise model (grant recipient versus non-recipient).
The results of this study suggested that important relationships exist between college student motivational orientation and academic success. Furthermore, the study showed that self-determination theory contributes to the understanding of college student academic achievement and persistence. The structural equation modeling indicated that there were significant and positive relationships between the motivational orientation of competence and intention to persist as well as grade point average. Students who attended college to fulfill a need for competence were concerned about their achievements, knowledge, and skills. If this need for competence was fulfilled, these students may experience greater levels of intrinsic motivation, which may lead to higher academic achievement and greater likelihood for persistence. Faculty could help increase students’ perceived competence by providing positive feedback to their students. In addition, college foundations could offer scholarship awards to students who meet some academic merit criteria. Although there were limitations to the study, it still provided significant results that would be beneficial to share with community college administrators, faculty, and student services professionals, among others.