Transitioning to University: The Effect of Changes in Academic Engagement and Pressure and Support from Friends on Grades

  • Author / Creator
    Vargas Lascano, Dayuma Ixchel
  • In Canada, over half of high school graduates attend post-secondary education (PSE); however, up to 32% of these students fail to graduate. Given that PSE completion requires meeting academic performance standards and that persistence in PSE is strongly associated with academic performance, a better understanding of factors that influence PSE students’ academic performance can inform educators’, students’, and other stakeholders’ efforts to improve persistence in PSE. This dissertation longitudinally examines two aspects of students’ motivational systems proposed to impact academic performance following the Self-Systems Motivational Model: academic engagement and friends’ influences. Whereas extensive research exists on the role of academic engagement and friends on students’ academic performance during elementary and junior high school, research on these issues during high school is limited and during PSE is even scarcer. To address this gap, this dissertation examines university-level students’ academic engagement and their perceived academic pressure and support from friends across their first semester of post-secondary education, the relation of friendship and engagement to one another, and their roles in students’ academic performance (GPA). First-year full-time university students (N = 544) were tracked four times across their first semester. Latent growth curve models showed that all aspects of academic engagement changed across the semester, with some differences in patterns of change over time across different aspects of engagement. Students experienced steady declines in in-class behavioral engagement across the semester while experiencing declines in the first half of the semester followed by slower loss and a slight uptake by the end in all other aspects of engagement investigated, with slight differences in rates of change among them (out-of-class behavioral engagement, cognitive engagement, and social behavioral engagement). Different aspects of friends’ influences also showed different patterns of change across the semester, with students experiencing steady increases in school-supportive pressure throughout, decreasing school-obstructive pressure in the first half of the semester followed by slight increases, and increasing academic instrumental support in the first half of the semester followed by slight decreases. Parallel process models showed significant associations between aspects of academic engagement and aspects of friends’ influences at baseline in seven out twelve assessed models. In general, at the beginning of the semester, more academically engaged students experienced higher school-supportive pressure and academic instrumental support from friends and lower school-obstructive pressure from friends compared to less academically engaged students. Students’ experiences of friends’ influences at the beginning of the semester did not predict change over time in students’ engagement nor did students’ engagement at the beginning of the semester predict change over time in students’ experiences of friends’ influences. There were no consistent associations between change in aspects of academic engagement across the semester and changes in aspects of friends’ influences across the semester (significant in two out of twelve models). In terms of academic performance, students who were more academically engaged (all aspects except cognitive engagement) at the beginning of the semester received higher GPAs at the end of the semester. Conversely, students experiencing more school-supportive pressure from friends at the beginning of the semester received lower GPAs. Overall, first year students experienced changes in academic engagement and perceived academic pressure and support from friends across their first semester at university. How much students engage with their academics was linked to their experiences of perceived academic pressure and support from friends at the beginning of the semester and both of these predicted their academic performance outcome at the end of the semester. Students’ academic engagement and friends’ influences experiences across their first university semester were not linked to one another and did not matter for their academic performance once the impact of initial levels of engagement and friends’ influences were taken into accounted. What students bring with them to university, then, in terms of engagement and friendship support seems to impact their academic performance at the end of the semester more than changes in these two areas across the semester. Working with high school teachers and students to help students develop habits linked to academic success in PSE may help PSE institutions improve the academic performance of their students as much as providing academic support services to them once they start their PSE studies.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2016
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Kindermann, Thomas (Psychology)
    • Wild, Cam (School of Public Health)
    • Galovan, Adam (Human Ecology)
    • Nicoladis, Elena (Psychology)
    • Noels, Kim (Psychology)