The Relationship between Achievement Goal Orientation and Coping Style: Traditional vs. Nontraditional College Students

Article excerpt

Do traditional and nontraditional college students cope differently with stress? Is there a relationship between type of coping style and achievement goal orientation? Participants were administered questionnaires that measured both achievement goal orientation and coping style. Results suggest that there is a relationship between student status, academic goal orientation, and type of coping style utilized. Specifically, nontraditional college students more often endorsed learning goals and utilized task-oriented coping, in addition to exhibiting a wider repertoire of coping behaviors than did the younger traditional college students. Implications for these findings are further explored in an attempt to outline the role of achievement goals, coping styles, and grade point average in relation to the two groups.


Dweck and Leggett (1988) argue that there are two distinct behavioral patterns that can contribute to students' achievement goal orientations. Learning goals are characterized as the most positive approach, and generally include a desire to increase competence and continually improve oneself. A learning orientation results in the most adaptive responses, such as increased effort to solve a problem or more perseverance when confronted with a difficult situation (Roedel, Schraw, & Plake, 1994). Conversely, a performance goal orientation is likely to reflect maladaptive responses, and is characterized by a focus on outcome and a desire to avoid negative feedback. This orientation often leads to increased anxiety and an inability to persist when faced with obstacles (Eppler & Harju, 1997).

Previous research has investigated the impact of achievement goal orientations on academic success in elementary school children (Eppler & Harju, 1997; Dweck, 1896), yet little research has been aimed at the assessment of college-aged students. One of the few studies to address the effects of goal orientations on achievement at the collegiate level found that students with a strong learning goal orientation were more apt to succeed in an introductory science course than were students with a relatively weak learning goal orientation (Roedel & Schraw, 1995). According to Dweck and Leggett (1988), performance goals have been correlated with the avoidance of learning opportunities and deterioration of academic performance. Investigations on these two types of goals have demonstrated that the most favorable outcome entails an equal balance between both learning and performance goals (Dweck & Leggett, 1988).

Another study to investigate achievement motivation goals in college students in relation to academic performance found that nontraditional college students endorsed a learning goal orientation significantly more than did traditional college students (Eppler & Harju, 1997). They also discovered that the older the nontraditional student was, the more frequently they adopted learning goals and were more committed to them than their younger traditional peers.

Stress and academic performance are omnipresent issues in college students' lives. A recent increase in the number of nontraditional college students has raised the possibility that traditional and nontraditional college students utilize different coping styles when confronted with stressful situations. Endler and Parker (1990a) argue that people develop distinct styles of coping when responding to stressful situations. Coping style, as most commonly referred to in the literature, is the typical manner in which an individual will confront a stressful situation. Pertinent to the present study is the suggestion that academic performance and achievement goals might be related to an individual's style of coping. One study in particular investigated the significance of achievement and the appraisal of stressful events as predictors of coping (Santiago-Rivera, Bernstein & Gard, 1995). Their data supported the assumption that those who consider achievement important also tend to evaluate more events as challenging and use more task-oriented coping strategies that ultimately reversed the negative effects of stress (Santiago-Rivera et al. …