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Changes in Motivational Beliefs Among First-year Engineering Students: Relations to Academic Achievement and Retention Status

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Persistence and Retention

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.340.1 - 26.340.11



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Paper Authors


Yu-Yun Liu University of Louisville

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Yu-Yun Liu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology, Counseling, and College Student Personnel at the University of Louisville. Her research interests include motivational beliefs, achievement, and college student mental health issues.

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Kate E. Snyder University of Louisville

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Kate E. Snyder is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology, Counseling, and College Student Personnel at the University of Louisville. Her research interests include understanding the role of achievement motivation in the development of academic underachievement, particularly among gifted students.

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Patricia A Ralston University of Louisville

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Dr. Patricia A. S. Ralston is Professor and Chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. She received her B.S., MEng, and PhD degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville. Dr. Ralston teaches undergraduate engineering mathematics and is currently involved in educational research on the effective use of technology in engineering education, the incorporation of critical thinking in undergraduate engineering education, and retention of engineering students. She leads a research group whose goal is to foster active interdisciplinary research which investigates learning and motivation and whose findings will inform the development of evidence-based interventions to promote retention and student success in engineering. Her fields of technical expertise include process modeling, simulation, and process control.

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Changes in motivational beliefs among first year engineering students: Relations to academic achievementExpectancy-value theory has long been used to explain students’ academic choices andachievement. Task value contains three components: judgments of interest in a domain(interest/intrinsic value), judgments of the domain’s meaningfulness or consistency with one’sidentity (attainment value), and anticipated affective drawbacks of engaging in a domain(perceived psychological cost value). Research is needed to examine if and how perceived taskvalue changes over time and whether those changes influence engineering achievement. Wehypothesized that increases in interest and attainment value (and decreases in perceivedpsychological cost value) would be associated with higher academic achievement amongundergraduates in engineering.Participants in the current study included first-year students from an urban metropolitanuniversity enrolled in a school of engineering (n = 377, 21.8% female) in Fall 2013. Participantscompleted a self-report survey assessing their motivational beliefs (Time 1: first week of thesemester; Time 2: thirteenth week of the semester). Interest in engineering was measured by asingle item. A five-item scale was used to measure attainment value (AV; internal consistency:αT1 = .85, αT2 = .91; sample item: “It is important for me to be a person who reasons like anengineer.”). A four-item scale was used to measure psychological cost value (PCV; internalconsistency: αT1 = .61, αT2 = .72; sample item: “I am concerned that I won't be able to handle thestress that might go along with my engineering major.”). Scale scores for AV and PCV werecalculated by averaging items within subscales. Academic achievement was measured by firstsemester overall GPA. Descriptive data are presented in Table 1.A linear regression was conducted to determine if changes in motivational beliefs predictedacademic achievement. Change scores were calculated for each of the three independentvariables by subtracting T2 values from T1 values. Standardized coefficients represent theassociation of each independent variable with GPA. Results suggested that changes in thesebeliefs, interest level (β = .125, p < .05), attainment value (β = .149, p < .01), and perceivedpsychological cost value (β = -.193, p < .01), were statistically significantly associated withstudent academic achievement (R2 = .065), consistent with our hypotheses. Specifically, anincrease in interest in engineering and perceived meaningfulness of engineering (attainmentvalue) was associated with higher GPA. In contrast, a decrease in perceived psychological costvalue (i.e., worrying less about what it means to do poorly in engineering) was associated withhigher GPA.These findings demonstrate that changes in motivational beliefs about engineering (interest,value, and perceived costs) are associated with first semester academic achievement. To improveacademic performance and retention rate, potential interventions could entail helping studentsdevelop an identity as an engineer, and identifying strategies to alleviate excessive worries aboutwhat happens when failure occurs. For example, this could involve helping students reframe apoor exam grade as something within their control (effort) rather than indicative of low abilityand a sign that they should drop out of engineering. We also plan to analyze how changingbeliefs predict first year retention status in the final paper.Table 1Descriptive Statistics for All Variables (n = 377) Mean SDGPA for fall 2013 2.97 .73T1: Interest in engineering 4.05 .61T2: Interest in engineering 3.93 .94T1: MSPMAP_AV 3.95 .59T2: MSPMAP_AV 3.76 .80T1: MSPMAP_PCV 3.29 .75T2: MSPMAP_PCV 3.26 .81Change in interest -.12 .80Change in attainment value -.19 .67Change in perceived -.04 .72psychological cost valueReferencesEccles J. S., Adler, T. F., Futterman, R., Goff, S. B., Kaczala, C. M., Meece, J. L., & Midgley, C. (1983). Expectancies, values, and academic behaviors. In J. T. Spence (Ed.), Achievement and achievement motivation (pp. 75–146). San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman.Iskander, E. T., Gore, P. A., Jr., Furse, C., & Bergerson, A. (2013). Gender differences in expressed interests in engineering-related fields ACT 30-year data analysis identified trends and suggested avenues to reverse trends. Journal of Career Assessment, 21, 599- 613. doi: 10.1177/1069072712475290

Liu, Y., & Snyder, K. E., & Ralston, P. A. (2015, June), Changes in Motivational Beliefs Among First-year Engineering Students: Relations to Academic Achievement and Retention Status Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23679

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