The association between students’ need satisfaction and motivation: the longitudinal change and stability of motivational profiles during a transition

Year: 2018

Author: Meens, Evelyne, Bakx, Anouke, Denissen, Jaap

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The transition from secondary education to higher education can be a risk for motivation, especially when the new educational environment is not aligned with students' needs (Eccles et al., 1993). This study aimed at examining to what extent students' motivation changes after the transition to higher education and how students' need satisfaction is associated with this motivation. Students’ need satisfaction was operationalized by four proxy indicators: satisfaction with major choice, social adjustment, academic adjustment, and self-efficacy. Our research questions were:
RQ1. What kind of motivational profiles can be identified before and after the transition?
RQ2. How do students change motivational profiles after the transition?
RQ3. How is students’ need satisfaction associated with motivational profiles after the transition?  
The initial sample consisted of 7,785 applicants for fulltime bachelor’s programs at a large university of applied sciences in the Netherlands (> 44.000 students). They filled out an online questionnaire as part of an intake procedure. Of these students, 1,311 (16.8%) agreed to participate again (62.5% female, Mage = 19.18, SD = 2.04). Because of the low response at Time 2, we did an attrition analysis which justified that our research sample did not represent a biased sample. For our analyses we conducted Latent Profiles Analyses and multinomial logistic regression.
Regarding the first research question, we identified three motivational profiles before and after the transition: a high quality profile, a high quantity profile, and a low quality profile. Regarding the second research question, we found that nearly half of the students (45%) significantly displayed a stable motivational profile over time. Overall, the mean levels of motivation between Time 1 and Time 2 decreased. Regarding the third research question, we found that the four proxies of students’ need satisfaction were positively associated with autonomous motivation (i.e., the high quality profile). These findings suggest that to enhance students' autonomous motivation after a transition, educational institutions should invest in interventions that make sure that students are satisfied with their chosen major (need for autonomy), that make students feel at home (need for relatedness), and that increase their self-efficacy and academic adjustment (need for competence).
Our design could not give insight in which specific feelings, experiences, or thoughts, necessary for motivation, ensure that students feel that their needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence are satisfied. Future research by means of experience sampling could gain more fine-grained insight into the cause-and-effect associations between students’ needs and motivation.