European Journal of Psychology of Education

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 67–86 | Cite as

The directional links between students’ academic motivation and social integration during the first year of higher education

  • Dorien NoyensEmail author
  • Vincent Donche
  • Liesje Coertjens
  • Tine van Daal
  • Peter Van Petegem


Previous theoretical research proposed a link between students’ academic motivation and students’ experiences of social integration, but less is known empirically about this association in higher education contexts. In order to explore the directional links between students’ academic motivation and social integration, this survey study aims to investigate the following: (1) how students’ motivation at the start affects their experiences of social integration at the end of the first year of higher education and (2) how students’ social integration at the start influences their motivation at the end of the first year. A total of 930 freshmen participated in this study by completing a questionnaire. Three autoregressive cross-lagged models were tested by using a longitudinal dataset with two measurement waves, at the start and at the end of the first year of higher education. The results showed that students with a high level of amotivation at the start of the first year of higher education were less socially integrated at the end of the first year. Furthermore, social integration could play a crucial role in positively changing students’ identified regulation during the first year of higher education. Students who experienced a greater degree of social integration at the start of the first year had a higher score on identified regulation at the end of the first year. These results highlight the importance of creating a learning environment which fosters students’ social integration, as well as supporting less-motivated students at the start of the first year.


Academic motivation Social integration Higher education First-year students Involvement Self-determination 



  1. Allen, J., Robbins, S. B., Casillas, A., & Oh, I.-S. (2008). Third-year college retention and transfer: effects of academic performance, motivation, and social connectedness. Research in Higher Education, 49(7), 647–664. Scholar
  2. Appleton, J. J., Christenson, S. L., & Furlong, M. J. (2008). Student engagement with school: critical conceptual and methodological issues of the construct. Psychology in the Schools, 45(5), 369–386. Scholar
  3. Assor, A., Vansteenkiste, M., & Kaplan, A. (2009). Identified versus introjected approach and introjected avoidance motivations in school and in sports: the limited benefits of self-worth strivings. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(2), 482–497. Scholar
  4. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529. Scholar
  5. Bean, J. P., & Metzner, B. S. (1985). A conceptual model of nontraditional undergraduate student attrition. Review of Educational Research, 55(4), 485–540. Scholar
  6. Beekhoven, S., De Jong, U., & Van Hout, H. (2002). Explaining academic progress via combining concepts of integration theory and rational choice theory. Research in Higher Education, 43(5), 577–600. Scholar
  7. Bollen, K. A., & Curran, P. J. (2006). Latent curve models: a structural equation perspective. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  8. Bosse, E., & Trautwein, C. (2014). Individuelle und institutionelle Herausforderungen der Studieneingangsphase. Zeitschrift für Hochschulentwicklung, 9(5), 41–62.Google Scholar
  9. Braxton, J. M., Jones, W. A., Hirschy, A. S., & Hartley III, H. V. (2008). The role of active learning in college student persistence. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2008(115), 71–83. Scholar
  10. Briggs, A. R. J., Clark, J., & Hall, I. (2012). Building bridges: understanding student transition to university. Quality in Higher Education, 18(1), 3–21. Scholar
  11. Brouwer, J., Jansen, E., Flache, A., & Hofman, A. (2016). The impact of social capital on self-efficacy and study success among first-year university students. Learning and Individual Differences, 52, 109–118. Scholar
  12. Browne, M. W., & Cudeck, R. (1992). Alternative ways of assessing model fit. Sociological Methods Research, 21(2), 230–258. Scholar
  13. Buote, V. M., Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M. W., Adams, G., Birnie-Lefcovitch, S., Polivy, J., & Wintre, M. G. (2007). The importance of friends. Journal of Adolescent Research, 22(6), 665–689. Scholar
  14. Byrne, B. M. (2010). Structural equation modeling using AMOS: basic concepts, applications, and programming. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Byrne, M., & Flood, B. (2005). A study of accounting students’ motives, expectations and preparedness for higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 29(2), 111–124. Scholar
  16. Cheung, G. W., & Rensvold, R. B. (2002). Evaluating goodness-of-fit indexes for festing measurement invariance. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 9(2), 233–255. Scholar
  17. Christie, H., Tett, L., Cree, V. E., Hounsell, J., & McCune, V. (2008). ‘A real rollercoaster of confidence and emotions’: learning to be a university student. Studies in Higher Education, 33(5), 567–581. Scholar
  18. Coertjens, L., Donche, V., De Maeyer, S., Vanthournout, G., & Van Petegem, P. (2012). Longitudinal measurement invariance of likert-type learning strategy scales: are we using the same ruler at each wave? Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 30(6), 577–587. Scholar
  19. Coertjens, L., Donche, V., De Maeyer, S., Vanthournout, G., & Van Petegem, P. (2017). To what degree does the missing-data technique influence the estimated growth in learning strategies over time? a tutorial example of sensitivity analysis for longitudinal data. PLoS ONE, 12(9), e0182615. Google Scholar
  20. Collings, R., Swanson, V., & Watkins, R. (2014). The impact of peer mentoring on levels of student wellbeing, integration and retention: a controlled comparative evaluation of residential students in UK higher education. Higher Education, 68(6), 927–942. Scholar
  21. Connell, J. P., & Wellborn, J. G. (1991). Competence, autonomy, and relatedness: a motivational analysis of self-system processes. In M. R. Gunnar & L. A. Sroufe (Eds.), Self processes and development (pp. 43–77). Hillsdale, NJ, England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  22. Dawson, P., van der Meer, J., Skalicky, J., & Cowley, K. (2014). On the effectiveness of supplemental instruction: a systematic review of supplemental instruction and peer-assisted study sessions literature between 2001 and 2010. Review of Educational Research, 84(4), 609–639. Scholar
  23. De Clercq, M., Galand, B., Dupont, S., & Frenay, M. (2013). Achievement among first-year university students: an integrated and contextualised approach. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28(3), 641–662. Scholar
  24. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227–268. Scholar
  25. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2002). Handbook of self-determination research. Rochester, NY: University Rochester Press.Google Scholar
  26. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008a). Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life’s domains. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(1), 14–23. Scholar
  27. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008b). Self-determination theory: a macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(3), 182–185. Scholar
  28. Dennis, J. M., Phinney, J. S., & Chuateco, L. I. (2005). The role of motivation, parental support, and peer support in the academic success of ethnic minority first-generation college students. Journal of College Student Development, 46(3), 223–236. Scholar
  29. Donche, V., & Van Petegem, P. (2008). The validity and reliability of the Short Inventory of Learning Patterns. In E. Cools, H. Van den Broeck, C. Evans, & T. Redmond (Eds.), Style and cultural differences: how can organisations, regions and countries take advantage of style differences (pp. 49–59). Gent, Belgium: Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School.Google Scholar
  30. Donche, V., De Maeyer, S., Coertjens, L., van Daal, T., & Van Petegem, P. (2013). Differential use of learning strategies in first-year higher education: the impact of personality, academic motivation, and teaching strategies. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(2), 238–251.
  31. Donche, V., Coertjens, L., van Daal, T., De Maeyer, S., & Van Petegem, P. (2014). Understanding differences in student learning and academic achievement in first year higher education: an integrated research perspective. In D. Gijbels, V. Donche, J. T. E. Richardson, & J. D. Vermunt (Eds.), Learning patterns in higher education: dimensions and research perspectives (pp. 214–231). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  32. Eisenberg, D., Hunt, J., & Speer, N. (2013). Mental health in American colleges and universities: Variation across student subgroups and across campuses. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 201(1), 60–67. Scholar
  33. Enders, C. K., & Bandalos, D. L. (2001). The relative performance of full information maximum likelihood estimation for missing data in structural equation models. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 8(3), 430–457. Scholar
  34. Flemish Government. (2012). Hoger onderwijs in cijfers: academiejaar 2011–2012 [Higher education in numbers—academic year 2011–2012]. Retrieved from
  35. Freeman, T. M., Anderman, L. H., & Jensen, J. M. (2007). Sense of belonging in college freshmen at the classroom and campus levels. The Journal of Experimental Education, 75(3), 203–220. Scholar
  36. Gale, T., & Parker, S. (2012). Navigating change: a typology of student transition in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 39(5), 734–753. Scholar
  37. Hixenbaugh, P., Dewart, H., Drees, D., & Williams, D. (2006). Peer E-mentoring: enhancement of the first year experience. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 5(1), 8–14. Scholar
  38. Hu, L. t., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 6(1), 1–55. Scholar
  39. Jenert, T., Brahm, T., Gommers, L., & Kühner, P. (2017). How do they find their place? A typology of students’ enculturation during the first year at a business school. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 12, 87–99. Scholar
  40. Kember, D. (2001). Beliefs about knowledge and the process of teaching and learning as a factor in adjusting to study in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 26(2), 205–221. Scholar
  41. Kyndt, E., Coertjens, L., van Daal, T., Donche, V., Gijbels, D., & Van Petegem, P. (2015). The development of students' motivation in the transition from secondary to higher education: a longitudinal study. Learning and Individual Differences, 39(0), 114–123.
  42. Kyndt, E., Donche, V., Trigwell, K., & Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (2017). Higher education transitions: theory and research. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  43. Larcombe, W., Finch, S., Sore, R., Murray, C. M., Kentish, S., Mulder, R. A., & Williams, D. A. (2016). Prevalence and socio-demographic correlates of psychological distress among students at an Australian university. Studies in Higher Education, 41(6), 1074–1091. Scholar
  44. Litalien, D., Morin, A. J. S., Gagné, M., Vallerand, R. J., Losier, G. F., & Ryan, R. M. (2017). Evidence of a continuum structure of academic self-determination: a two-study test using a bifactor-ESEM representation of academic motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 51, 67–82. Scholar
  45. Martens, T., & Metzger, C. (2017). Different transitions towards learning at university: exploring the hetegoreneity of motivational processes. In E. Kyndt, V. Donche, K. Trigwell, & S. Lindblom-Ylänne (Eds.), Higher education transitions: theory and research (pp. 31–46). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  46. Meeuwisse, M., Severiens, S. E., & Born, M. P. (2010). Learning environment, interaction, sense of belonging and study success in ethnically diverse student groups. Research in Higher Education, 51(6), 528–545. Scholar
  47. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2012). Mplus user’s guide (7th ed.). Los Angelos, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
  48. Neuville, S., Frenay, M., Schmitz, J., Boudrenghien, G., Noël, B., & Wertz, V. (2007). Tinto’s theoretical perspective and expectancy-value paradigm: a confrontation to explain freshmen’s academic achievement. Psychologica Belgica, 47(1), 31–50. Scholar
  49. Niemiec, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: applying self-determination theory to educational practice. Theory and Research in Education, 7(2), 133–144. Scholar
  50. OECD. (2013). The state of higher education 2013. Retrieved from
  51. Pan, Y., & Gauvain, M. (2012). The continuity of college students’ autonomous learning motivation and its predictors: a three-year longitudinal study. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(1), 92–99. Scholar
  52. Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (1980). Predicting freshman persistence and voluntary dropout decisions from a theoretical model. The Journal of Higher Education, 51(1), 60–75. Scholar
  53. Perry, C., & Allard, A. (2003). Making the connections: transition experiences for first-year education students. The Journal of Educational Enquiry, 4(2), 74–89.Google Scholar
  54. Próspero, M., & Vohra-Gupta, S. (2007). First generation college students: motivation, integration, and academic achievement. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 31(12), 963–975. Scholar
  55. Quinlan, K. M. (2016). How emotion matters in four key relationships in teaching and learning in higher education. College Teaching, 64(3), 101–111. Scholar
  56. Richardson, M., Abraham, C., & Bond, R. (2012). Psychological correlates of university students’ academic performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138(2), 353–387. Scholar
  57. Rienties, B., Tempelaar, D., Van den Bossche, P., Gijselaers, W., & Segers, M. (2009). The role of academic motivation in computer-supported collaborative learning. Computers in Human Behavior, 25(6), 1195–1206. Scholar
  58. Robbins, S. B., Lauver, K., Le, H., Davis, D., Langley, R., & Carlstrom, A. (2004). Do psychosocial and study skill factors predict college outcomes? A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 130(2), 261–288. Scholar
  59. Ryan, R. M., & Connell, J. P. (1989). Perceived locus of causality and internalization: examining reasons for acting in two domains. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(5), 749–761. Scholar
  60. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78. Scholar
  61. Selig, J. P., & Little, T. D. (2012). Autoregressive and cross-lagged panel analysis for longitudinal data. In B. Laursen, T. D. Little, & N. A. Card (Eds.), Handbook of developmental research methods (pp. 265–278). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  62. Severiens, S., & Wolff, R. (2008). A comparison of ethnic minority and majority students: social and academic integration, and quality of learning. Studies in Higher Education, 33(3), 253–266. Scholar
  63. Sierens, E. (2010). Autonomy-supportive, structuring, and psychologically controlling teaching: antecedents, mediators, and outcomes in late adolescents (Doctoral dissertation). Leuven, Belgium: KU Leuven.Google Scholar
  64. Spady, W. G. (1970). Dropouts from higher education: an interdisciplinary review and synthesis. Interchange, 1(1), 64–85. Scholar
  65. Tinajero, C., Martínez-López, Z., Rodríguez, M. S., Guisande, M. A., & Páramo, M. F. (2015). Gender and socioeconomic status differences in university students’ perception of social support. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 30(2), 227–244. Scholar
  66. Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from higher education: a theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research, 45(1), 89–125. Scholar
  67. Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  68. Tinto, V. (1997). Classrooms as communities: exploring the educational character of student persistence. The Journal of Higher Education, 68(6), 599–623. Scholar
  69. Tinto, V. (2012). Completing college: rethinking institutional action. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  70. Urdan, T., & Schoenfelder, E. (2006). Classroom effects on student motivation: goal structures, social relationships, and competence beliefs. Journal of School Psychology, 44(5), 331–349. Scholar
  71. Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., Blais, M. R., Briere, N. M., Senecal, C., & Vallieres, E. F. (1992). The academic motivation scale: a measure of intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation in education. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 52(4), 1003–1017. Scholar
  72. van der Meer, J., Wass, R., Scott, S., & Kokaua, J. (2017). Entry characteristics and participation in a peer learning program as predictors of first-year students’ achievement, retention, and degree completion. AERA Open, 3(3), 1–13. Scholar
  73. van der Wende, M. C. (2003). Globalisation and access to higher education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 7(2), 193–206. Scholar
  74. Vandenberg, R. J., & Lance, C. E. (2000). A review and synthesis of the measurement invariance literature: suggestions, practices, and recommendations for organizational research. Organizational Research Methods, 3(1), 4–70. Scholar
  75. Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., & Deci, E. L. (2006). Intrinsic versus extrinsic goal contents in self-determination theory: another look at the quality of academic motivation. Educational Psychologist, 41(1), 19–31. Scholar
  76. Vansteenkiste, M., & Ryan, R. M. (2013). On psychological growth and vulnerability: basic psychological need satisfaction and need frustration as a unifying principle. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 23(3), 263–280. Scholar
  77. Vansteenkiste, M., Sierens, E., Soenens, B., Luyckx, K., & Lens, W. (2009). Motivational profiles from a self-determination perspective: the quality of motivation matters. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(3), 671–688. Scholar
  78. Vanthournout, G., Gijbels, D., Coertjens, L., Donche, V., & Van Petegem, P. (2012). Students' persistence and academic success in a first-year professional bachelor program: the influence of students' learning strategies and academic motivation. Education Research International, 2012, 10 pages.
  79. Wagner, D., & Brahm, T. (2017). Fear of academic failure as a self-fulfilling prophecy. In E. Kyndt, V. Donche, K. Trigwell, & S. Lindblom-Ylänne (Eds.), Higher education transitions: theory and research (pp. 13–30). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  80. Wentzel, K. R. (2005). Peer relationships, motivation, and academic performance at school. In A. J. Elliot & C. S. Dweck (Eds.), Handbook of competence and motivation (pp. 279–296). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  81. Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2002). Development of achievement motivation. London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  82. Wilcox, P., Winn, S., & Fyvie-Gauld, M. (2005). ‘It was nothing to do with the university, it was just the people’: the role of social support in the first-year experience of higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 30(6), 707–722. Scholar
  83. Wilson, K. L., Murphy, K. A., Pearson, A. G., Wallace, B. M., Reher, V. G. S., & Buys, N. (2014). Understanding the early transition needs of diverse commencing university students in a health faculty: informing effective intervention practices. Studies in Higher Education, 41(6), 1–18. Scholar

Copyright information

© Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, Lisboa, Portugal and Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Training and Education Sciences, Faculty of Social SciencesUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  2. 2.Psychological Sciences Research InstituteUniversité Catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium

Personalised recommendations