Colleen J. Sullivan, Ph.D. (August 2010)
(Mentor: Linda Baker)
Many institutions of higher education provide resources to help students adjust to the college environment and obtain their personal academic goals. These academic resources also may benefit retention and graduation rates for the institution. One resource is a first-year experience course, such as the Introduction to an Honors University (IHU) seminar at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This study explored the role that participation in a first-year experience course had on students’ academic self-regulation (i.e., motivation and learning strategies), academic performance, and college adjustment. An additional purpose of this study was to understand how students’ academic self-regulation and college adjustment relates to their end of semester educational outcomes, specifically academic performance. Research has suggested that participation in first-year experience courses facilitates students’ college transition, as evidenced by academic performance and college involvement, but these studies often do not include a comparison to the general population of first-year college students and do not account for other factors that may be influencing educational outcomes.
Participants included 133 first-year, first-time college students. These students voluntarily enrolled or chose not to enroll in a first-year experience course, which led to their placement in one of the following groups: 1) First-year experience course group: Students enrolled in an optional IHU seminar linked to an introductory academic course or 2) Comparison group: Students enrolled in the same introductory academic course. Participants completed three assessments that started in the summer prior to their first semester and ended at the conclusion of that semester. This study was designed to address two separate research questions. First, by the end of the semester, do IHU seminar participants and non-participants differ in academic self-regulation, academic performance, and college adjustment? Second, what are the academic self-regulation and college adjustment predictors of first-year students’ educational outcomes?
Results revealed that participation in an IHU seminar was associated with adaptive motivational beliefs and the use of deep-processing and resource management learning strategies at the end of the semester. Specifically, IHU seminar participants were more likely to have stronger beliefs in their ability to academically succeed and also used college-appropriate strategies that support higher-order thinking, long-term retention of information, proper use of time, and identification of beneficial resources such as teachers and peers. These first-year experience courses seemed to create an interactive classroom community that supported gaining knowledge about university resources, developing strong beliefs of self-efficacy, and identifying resource management strategies. Additionally, IHU seminar participants earned a better course grade and first-semester GPA compared to their peers; however, more research is needed to identify the specific variables related to the students’ better grades. IHU seminar instructors emphasized the use of college-appropriate learning strategies, but greater attention should be given to students’ motivation and interests, which could further impact their academic major decisions and career choices. The benefit of IHU seminar participation may continue after the first semester, which implies that further studies should be conducted to identify long-term results of participating in these courses.
Results also revealed that students’ academic self-regulation and college adjustment measured during the course of the semester are connected to educational outcomes. Overall, these findings suggest that a high level of academic self-regulation goals and beliefs, the use of learning strategies, and a high level of academic college adjustment during the semester relates to a high level of educational outcomes at the end of the semester. Mastery-approach goals, or the intrinsic interest to learn, related to students’ values toward completing an academic task, beliefs in their ability to succeed, use of learning strategies, and positive college adjustment. Additionally, students who had high levels of other motivational components, including task value, self-efficacy, and learning strategies at mid-semester also had a high level of college adjustment and better academic performance at the end of the semester. Lastly, students who had a high level of academic adjustment also had better academic performance. Course objectives and institutional resources that facilitate motivation, the use of learning strategies, and academic adjustment may be the key to students’ short-term and possibly long-term academic success. Future research is needed to determine the factors that are related to long-term success and the role first-year experience course participation plays in retention and graduation. The inclusion of a larger, more academically diverse sample that includes students with varying degrees of ability and motivation and who attend different types of institutions is also necessary to identify a variety of valuable academic resources for the college student population.