Review: Do Reasons for Attending College Affect Academic Outcomes?

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By Tonya Kowalski from Washburn University School of Law

Douglas A. Guiffrida, et al., Do Reasons for Attending College Affect Academic Outcomes?: A Test of a Motivational Model From a Self-Determination Theory Perspective, 54:2 Journal of College Student Development 121 (2013) [Read fulltext at University of Rochester website (1.4 MB PDF)]

We have long heard that students who are intrinsically motivated perform better in higher education than those who are merely extrinsically motivated. For example, a primary desire for personal growth is a more positive indicator of success than a primary desire to avoid poor grades. The two types of motivation can exist side-by-side in a successful student, but a strong intrinsic motivation must balance other drivers. At the same time, other research indicates that student-faculty rapport is one of the most important factors in both student and teacher success. In the forthcoming Harvard University Press study,What the Best Law Teachers Do, Institute faculty members Gerry Hess, Michael Hunter Schwartz, and Sophie Sparrow emphasize the pivotal role that relationships play in student perceptions of teacher efficacy.

With these generally accepted principles in mind, what is the relationship between intrinsic motivation and student-teacher relationships? A recent study by faculty at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education begins to fill that gap in the literature. In a survey of 2,500 college students, researchers found a strong correlation between GPA performance and students who attend college motivated by the goal of building relationships with faculty and staff. This was true even when factors such as socioeconomic status were statistically removed. As for other intrinsic motivators, a primary motivation to socialize with peers was related to lower GPAs, particularly for male students. An altruistic desire to obtain an education in order to serve one’s family and community had a weaker correlation to GPA among white students, and a stronger correlation among students of color, ostensibly due to socioeconomic concerns.

As the authors note in their conclusions, these findings offer ideas for how to counsel students who are struggling academically. Perhaps the most important insight we can glean from the study as law teachers is how we model the importance of student-faculty relationships to our law students both in and out of the classroom.

Hat tip to Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed for the related news story and article review.

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