Post-Secondary Students with Children: An Investigation of Motivation and the Experiences of "Student Parents"

van Rhijn, Tricia Marie
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University of Guelph

This study focused on the experiences of undergraduate students with dependent children enrolled in university programs. A holistic approach was adopted to examine student parents’ experiences beyond the academic context. In particular, the research examined how student parents maintain their motivation to attend school despite significant strain and conflict added by taking on the student role. Three specific research questions were investigated exploring motivation to attend university, the influence of self-efficacy beliefs, and how student parents define their success as well as the strategies/supports they utilize to enable their success. Three theories were utilized to provide complementary approaches to explore the research questions: Self-Determination Theory, Possible Selves Theory, and Social Cognitive Theory. Student parent participants were recruited from four universities in southern Ontario as part of a larger study of mature students. Three hundred and ninety-eight students completed an online survey that consisted of a mixture of open- and closed-ended questions. A mixed methods approach was utilized to analyze these data. Qualitative analyses included a directed and a conventional qualitative content analysis. Quantitative analyses included structural equation modeling work to test for measurement invariance based on enrollment status and to evaluate two competing structural models investigating the impact of efficacy beliefs. The findings from this research provide evidence that student parents are quite self-determined in their motivations to attend university and that their motivation includes a strong future focus on their goal aspirations. Student parents’ self-efficacy beliefs and perceptions of school-family balance were found to be significant contributors to school, family, and life satisfaction. Measurement invariance was demonstrated for the study variables based on enrollment status and there were very few differences found between student parents studying on a full-time or part-time basis. Student parents defined success as encompassing multiple aspects, rather than a unitary focus on their student role. These broader definitions of success included success in terms of their individual development, their family relationships, and their workplaces in addition to their student roles. Practical implications of the work suggest ways that educational institutions, students, and others might support student parents’ success.

student parents, adult education, academic motivation, multiple roles, mature students