An investigation into perceived stressors as barriers to student engagement in an extended degree programme

Prinsloo, Manie (2019-04)

Thesis (MCom)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY : Low participation rates are a matter of concern for Higher Education (HE) institutions across South Africa. The HE sector is under pressure to increase student intake and although efforts to address this objective have been relatively successful over the last couple of years, low throughput rates and high student dropout rates remain challenges not yet addressed adequately. The extent to which students participate in educational activities, thus student engagement, is a known key antecedent to student success. Perceived stressors can, however, potentially hinder student engagement. High levels of stress, which students feel they are not equipped to deal with, may have a negative impact on their functioning, leading to lower levels of engagement. In order to determine whether perceived stressors could be a barrier to student engagement in an Extended Degree Programme (EDP), the current study aimed to answer the following research question: Which stressors do students, enrolled in the EDP, experience in the Faculty of Economic and Management Science (EMS) that could hinder student engagement? A quantitative non-experimental research design was employed in this study. Quantitative data was collected from 64 students registered for the EDP in the Faculty of EMS at Stellenbosch University. Data was collected specifically for the purpose of this research study and participation was voluntary. A self-administered web-based questionnaire was distributed to the participants. The questionnaire comprised five sections, including a biographical questionnaire and four existing scales measuring perceived stressors, perceived student stress, perceived social support and student engagement, respectively. Data analysis included descriptive statistics, correlations, regression analysis, Sobel Test, ANOVA and Bonferroni Post Hoc analysis. The research results indicate that there are statistical significant positive relationships between academic stressors and perceived student stress as well as between relationship stressors and perceived student stress. The mediation effect of perceived social support on both the relationships (i.e. academic stressors and perceived student stress; relationship stressors and perceived student stress) were not significant. Furthermore, the relationship between financial stressors and perceived student stress was not statistically significant. The correlations between perceived social support and student engagement (inclusive of all subscales) and perceived social support and the student engagement: absorption subscale were not statistically significant. However, the correlation between perceived social support and the two remaining student engagement subscales namely, vigour and dedication was statistically significant (weak negative correlations). Thus, the less perceived social support experienced, the greater the participants’ vigour and dedication. This result could be indicative of the intrinsic motivation to succeed at all costs displayed by the respondents of this study - irrespective of perceived social support. The motivation to succeed is paramount as many of these students are first-generation students and a higher education qualification is perceived as indicative of future success. Perceived student stress did not correlate statistical significantly with student engagement or with any of the three student engagement subscales. This could further support the finding that respondents are resilient and show engagement, irrespective of their perceived student stress. EDP students in different years of study did not significantly differ in their perception of academic and relationship stressors. However, they did differ in their perception of financial stressors (non-final year students perceived higher levels of stress). Furthermore, the sample group experienced moderate levels of student engagement, perceived student stress, academic stressors and financial stressors and low levels of relationship stressors. The sample reported high levels of perceived social support. This study failed to find a statistically significant relationship between perceived student stress and student engagement as suggested by literature. This might be due to the unique characteristics of the student cohort and the context of the EDP student within the Faculty. Follow-up research is suggested to investigate these findings further. The results of the current study contribute to the understanding of student engagement and stressors experienced by EDP students. As the perception of stressors is evident in all year groups, it is suggested that non-final and final year students are supported in a similar manner as the first year students. Programmes on stress management could be offered as part of the available online facilities as developmental opportunities to manage stressors.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Lae deelnamegetalle is 'n saak van kommer vir Hoër Onderwysinstellings reg oor Suid-Afrika. Die Hoër Onderwyssektor is onder druk om studente-inname te verhoog en hoewel pogings om dit aan te spreek, relatief suksesvol was oor die afgelope paar jaar, bly lae deurvloeikoers en 'n hoë studente-uitvalkoers steeds uitdagings wat nog nie ten volle aangespreek is nie. Die mate waartoe studente aan akademies verwante aktiwiteite deelneem, dus studentebetrokkenheid, is 'n erkende sleutelfaktor in studente se sukses. Waargenome stresfaktore kan potensieel studentebetrokkenheid verhinder. Hoë vlakke van stres, wanneer studente voel hulle is nie toegerus om te hanteer nie, kan 'n negatiewe impak hê op hul funksionering, wat tot laer vlakke van betrokkenheid kan lei. Die huidige studie het dus ten doel om die volgende navorsingsvraag te beantwoord: Watter stresfaktore, wat studentebetrokkenheid kan verhinder, word ervaar deur studente in die verlengde graadprogram (VGP) by ‘n Fakulteit Ekonomiese en Bestuurswetenskappe (EBW)? 'n Kwantitatiewe nie-eksperimentele navorsingsontwerp is in hierdie studie gebruik. Kwantitatiewe data is ingesamel van 64 studente wat geregistreer is vir die VGP in die EBW Fakulteit aan Stellenbosch Universiteit. Data is spesifiek ingesamel vir die doel van hierdie navorsingstudie en deelname was vrywillig. 'n Self-geadministreerde webgebaseerde vraelys is elektronies aan die deelnemers gestuur. Die vraelys het vyf afdelings ingesluit naamlik, 'n biografiese vraelys asook vier bestaande vraelyste wat onderskeidelik waargenome studentestresfaktore, waargenome studentestres, waargenome sosiale ondersteuning en studentebetrokkenheid meet. Kwantitatiewe data rakende die waargenome stresfaktore van VGP-studente is ingesamel. Data-ontleding het beskrywende statistiek, korrelasies, regressie-analise, Sobel-toets, ANOVA en Bonferroni Post Hoc analises ingesluit. Die navorsingsresultate dui op 'n statisties beduidende positiewe korrelasie tussen akademiese stressors en waargenome studentestres, sowel as verhoudingstressors en waargenome studentestres. Die moderator effek van waargenome sosiale ondersteuning op beide die korrelasies (d.w.s. akademiese stressors en waargenome studentestres; verhoudingstressors en waargenome studentestres) was nie betekenisvol nie. Verder was die verhouding tussen finansiële stressors en waargenome studentestres nie statisties betekenisvol nie. Die korrelasies tussen waargenome sosiale ondersteuning en studentebetrokkenheid (insluitend al drie subskale) en waargenome sosiale ondersteuning en die studentebetrokkenheid subskaal: absorpsie was nie statisties betekenisvol nie. Die korrelasie tussen waargenome sosiale ondersteuning en die twee oorblywende studentebetrokkenheid subskale, naamlik, dryfkrag en toewyding was statisties betekenisvol (swak negatiewe korrelasies). Dus, hoe minder waargenome sosiale ondersteuning ervaar word, hoe groter die dryfkrag en toewyding. Hierdie bevinding dui op die betrokke respondente se intrinsieke motivering om ten alle koste te slaag, ongeag die waargenome sosiale ondersteuning. Die motivering om te slaag, is uiters belangrik aangesien baie van hierdie studente eerstegenerasie-studente is en 'n hoër onderwyskwalifikasie as 'n aanduiding van toekomstige sukses beskou. Waargenome studentestres het nie statisties beduidend met studentebetrokkenheid of met enige van die drie subskale van studentebetrokkenheid gekorreleer nie. Dit kan verder die bevinding ondersteun dat respondente veerkragtig is en betrokkenheid toon, ongeag hul ervaring van studentestres. Studente in die verskillende studiejare van die VGP het nie beduidend verskil in hul persepsie van akademiese en verhoudingstressors nie. Hulle het egter verskil in hul persepsie van finansiële stressors (met hoër vlakke onder nie-finalejaarstudente). Verder het die steekproef matige vlakke van studentebetrokkenheid, waargenome studentestres, akademiese stressors en finansiële stressors en lae vlakke van verhoudingstressors ervaar. Die betrokke studente het hoë vlakke van waargenome sosiale ondersteuning gerapporteer. Alhoewel die literatuur dit voorstel, kon hierdie studie nie daarin slaag om 'n statisties beduidende verband tussen waargenome stressors en studentebetrokkenheid te vind nie. Dit kan moontlik toegskryf word aan die unieke eienskappe van die studentekohort en die konteks van die VGP binne die Fakulteit. Opvolg navorsing word voorgestel om hierdie bevindings verder te ondersoek. Die huidige studie dra by tot beter insig in studentebetrokkenheid en stressors wat VGP-studente ervaar. Aangesien die persepsie van stressors in alle jaargroepe voorkom, word voorgestel dat nie-finalejaar- en finalejaarstudente op soortgelyke wyse as die eerstejaarstudente ondersteun word. Programme oor stresbestuur kan aangebied word as deel van die beskikbare aanlynfasiliteite as ontwikkelingsgeleenthede om stressors te bestuur.

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