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., 1995). In a similar study, MacNair and Elliot (1992) examined the relationship between self-perceived problem solving and coping in undergraduates. They found that those students who reported more effective problem solving skills were also more likely to use coping strategies aimed towards task-oriented or problem solving focused. A literature review found relatively few studies addressing stress in nontraditional college students. One relevant study (Jacobi, 1987)revealed that nontraditional college students had considerably more time and role conflicts than did traditional college students. Their results also indicated that nontraditional college students displayed significantly lower levels of academic stress and reported being more satisfied with their academic experiences. Along the same lines, a similarly applicable study compared stressors of college between traditional and nontraditional college students (Dill & Henley, 1998). Their findings suggest that nontraditional college students possess a greater desire to learn as evidenced by more often completing homework and viewing it more desirably. On the other hand, traditional college students reported more often worrying about their performance in school, and viewed homework as less desirable than the nontraditional college student (Dill & Henley, 1998).
The implications of the previously referenced studies are multitudinous in nature. Our purpose is to broaden the body of research applying to traditional and non traditional college students in an effort to increase understanding and awareness of the two groups. The primary focus of the present study was to examine traditional and nontraditional college students' achievement goal orientations and then compare them to the styles of coping utilized. Our goal was to determine if coping styles and achievement goal orientations share a significant relationship, and whether these facilitate a better understanding of the differences between the two groups.
Based on previous research we hypothesized that a student's goal orientations would be related to the coping styles that he or she utilized. We expected that learning goal orientations would be positively related to task-oriented coping, whereas emotion-oriented coping would be positively related to a performance goal orientation. Furthermore, we predicted that nontraditional college students would more often endorse a learning goal orientation and utilize a task-oriented coping style more frequently than the traditional college student. We additionally expected that traditional college students would more often endorse a performance goal orientation and utilize emotion-oriented coping style more regularly.
Participants were 103 undergraduates from a small northeastern liberal arts college. Nontraditional college students were defined as 22 years of age or older and as having more multiple roles (i.e. parents, spouses, employees), while traditional college students were defined as those between the ages of 18 and 22 who resided on the college campus. Mean age for traditional students was 19.5 years of age, while nontraditional students' mean age was 28.
To assess strategies typically used in coping with stressful situations, the Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations (Endler & Parker, 1990b) was employed. The CISS measures coping as one of five types: task-oriented coping, emotion-oriented coping, and avoidance-oriented coping that includes social diversion and adds distraction-oriented coping.
For the purposes of this study, task and emotion-oriented coping were examined. The CISS defines task-oriented coping as a style of coping in which an individual purposefully attempts to solve a problem by actively seeking out a solution. Emotion-oriented coping is characterized as a self-focused coping style that generally results in intense emotional responses to stressful situations. The CISS' potential range of scores for task and emotion-oriented coping is from 16-80.
To measure achievement goal orientations in our sample, we used Roedel, Schraw, and Plake's (1994) Goals Inventory. This inventory evaluates students' achievement goal orientation using two distinct goals styles, learning goals and performance goals. The GI describes learning goals as those characterized by a strong desire for mastery and problem solving, whereas performance goals are defined by their focus on outcome over process. Potential scores on the performance goals factor ranges from 5-25, while potential scores on the learning goals factor ranges from 12-60.
Participants were tested in groups ranging in size from 5-20 students and were told that the purpose of the study was to learn about stress and it's relationship to traditional and nontraditional college students. Each participant was administered a packet containing the CISS, GI, and a demographic inventory. One hour was allotted for completion.
Statistical analyses yielded significant correlations for a number of variables under consideration. See Table 1 for reported mean and standard deviations. Specifically, students' age and learning goal orientation raw scores were significantly correlated (r = .280, df = 98, p<.01). Grade point average was also correlated with learning goal orientation raw scores (r = .275, df = 98, p<.01). Significant correlations were also found between task-oriented coping raw scores and learning goal orientation raw scores (r = .693, df = 98, p<.01). Task-oriented coping raw scores correlated negatively with performance goal orientation raw scores (r = -.198, df = 98, p<.05). Emotion-oriented coping raw scores correlated to performance goal orientation raw scores (r = .380, df = 98, p<.01). Nontraditional college students differed substantially from traditional college students on learning goal orientation raw scores (t = -2.818, df = 98, p<.006). Nontraditional college students also differed considerably from traditional college students on task oriented coping raw scores (t = -2.359, df = 98, p<.02). Emotion-oriented coping was found to be more frequently endorsed by nontraditional college students and performance goal orientations were more often endorsed by traditional students, yet neither were statistically significant.
Results support the hypothesis that traditional and nontraditional college students differ in both achievement goal orientations and coping styles. Our results additionally suggest that achievement goal orientations such as learning goals may be predictive of specific coping styles. The most significant finding in support of our hypothesis demonstrated that nontraditional college students more often endorsed a learning goal orientation, utilized task-oriented coping, and reported higher grade point averages. The finding that nontraditional college students more often endorsed learning goal orientations is consistent with Shield's (1993) study finding nontraditional college students placing more importance on learning for it's own sake. Given that grade point average and learning goal orientation correlated positively in our sample, a focus on academic performance may not necessarily lead to a higher grade point average, and a focus on the process of achievement may be more conducive to success. Learning goal orientations were also associated with increased use of task-oriented coping that may imply, for example, that a student who chooses to cope with stress more actively, setting up plans and mapping out solutions, may be more prone to focusing on the process of achievement and in turn attain higher grades, or vice versa. Potential reasons for why nontraditional college students more often utilize task-oriented coping include the possibility that having multiple roles increases the use of task-oriented coping by necessity, or that greater overall maturity increases the likelihood of more adaptive coping and a focus on learning for it's own sake. Results did reflect a relationship between age and the utilization of a learning goal orientation; as age increased so too did the use of learning goals. The predicted relationships between traditional college students' use of performance goal orientations and emotion-oriented coping was not supported by our data. The fact that nontraditional college students had higher levels of both task and emotion-oriented coping is in line with other research (Brooks, Morgan, & Scherer, 1990), suggesting that a larger repertoire of coping strategies is most effective.
Although previous research has discovered a link between achievement goal orientations and academic outcomes, little research has attempted to seek out relationships between achievement goal orientations and coping styles. Our results reflect the possibility that achievement goal orientations may be predictive of the ways in which students cope with stress. Further support for this hypothesis was sustained through our finding that those students who endorsed learning goal orientations were also more likely to have a wider range of coping behaviors and therefore utilize both task and emotion-oriented coping. Despite the fact that traditional college students more frequently endorsed performance goals, nontraditional college students also occasionally employed performance goals. This is consistent with Dweck and Leggett's (1988) finding that equal use of both goal orientations is most advantageous to the student. What may also be inferred from our findings is that a wider range of coping repertoires may be predictive of the utilization of learning goals, as substantiated in our sample most frequently by nontraditional college students.
It is clear that our results reveal a relationship between achievement goals, coping styles, and grade point averages. However, more research should be done to determine the amount of power each operating variable has on the other and to what degree it allows us to better understand achievement and coping differences in traditional and nontraditional college students. Future studies might further delineate the differences and similarities between the two groups, providing a clearer understanding of how college guidance personnel might better support effective coping for both traditional and nontraditional college students.
Table 1 Means and Standard Deviations of GPA, Achievement Orientation, and Coping Style by Student Status Traditional Nontraditional Estimated GPA 3.21 Std. Deviation = 1.73 3.37 Std. Deviation = 1.80 Learning goal orientation * 43.20 Std. Deviation = 7.92 47.56 Std. Deviation = 6.01 Performance goal orientation 14.58 Std. Deviation = 5.14 13.91 Std. Deviation = 4.82 Task-oriented coping * 55.32 Std. Deviation = 10.02 60.09 Std. Deviation = 8.65 Emotion-oriented coping 46.35 Std. Deviation = 11.22 48.65 Std. Deviation = 12.24 * Means differ from each other at p <.05
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EMILY A. MORRIS PEGGY R. BROOKS JAMES L. MAY Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts…