The role of student engagement in academic performance and commitment to college

Freeney, Yseult and Fellenz, Martin (2011) The role of student engagement in academic performance and commitment to college. [Conference Proceedings]


In efforts to improve student retention rates, higher education institutions increasingly focus on student engagement initiatives, which reflect research findings that consistently link students' engagement in learning with higher retention and performance levels (Blank, 1997). The question of what exactly is meant by 'student engagement', however, has not yet been answered in a comprehensive and universally accepted way, and despite the considerable attention on student engagement in the literature, the concept lacks clear operationalisation (Steele &Fullager, 2009). Using behavioural and attitudinal measures of engagement, this study investigated factors that contribute to and detract from study engagement and the role of these factors and of engagement for subsequent academic performance and commitment. More than 550 first and second-year students taught through large classes completed an online survey measuring demographic, contextual (e.g., student-staff interaction, social support), personality, behavioural and attitudinal variables. End of year grades were also included in the analysis. By collecting data on both attitudinal and behavioural student engagement, the study sheds light on the roles of these different conceptions of engagement for relevant student outcomes. Study results provide important insights in three areas. First, they identify individual differences as the strongest predictors of engagement. Second, they provide support for the importance of engagement as a factor in student retention. Finally, they indicate study skills as the strongest predictor of academic performance, followed by conscientiousness and attitudinal engagement. A significant outcome of this research for the current discourse on student engagement is the finding that the attitudinal rather than the behavioural measure of engagement was a stronger predictor of students' commitment and academic performance. We discuss the implications of the findings for the conception and use of engagement as an explanatory variable in higher education and for guiding the design of student engagement initiatives by higher education institutions.

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