Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Motivation, Satisfaction, and Innate Psychological Needs

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Motivation, Satisfaction, and Innate Psychological Needs

Article excerpt

Introduction

The high attrition rate of doctoral students has been described as a "hidden crisis" (Lovitts & Nelson, 2000). Research has indicated that 30 percent to 50 percent of doctoral students did not complete their degrees (Berelson, 1960, p. 168; Bowen & Rudinstine, 1992, chap. 6; Kehrhan, Sheckley, & Travers, 1999; Lovitts, 1996; Most, 2008; Nerad & Miller, 1996). More specifically, Nerad and Miller (1996) reported that different disciplines have different completion rates: 27% of biological and physical science students, 34% of engineering students, 47% of social science students, 52% of professional program students, and 56% of humanities students did not finish their doctoral degrees. In contrast, over 90% of students who attend professional schools of law, business, and medicine complete their programs (Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992). When students leave graduate study, it impacts departments and faculty, universities, society, and the students who leave. Departments and faculty are impacted because low graduating departments may be discontinued. Universities have to pay for recruiting new students to replace the students who leave. When doctoral students leave doctoral study, our society has fewer educated people who could work in a variety of fields. Individuals who leave doctoral programs suffer financial, professional, and personal setbacks (Lovitts, 2001, chap. 1). While completers and noncompleters often have financial aid debt, the noncompleters are less likely to find well-paying jobs (Lovitts, 2001, chap. 1). Noncompleters also feel demoralized when they leave their doctoral programs (Lovitts, 2001, chap. 1). For instance, students who drop out of graduate schools have long-term emotional consequences including regret, disappointment, and frustration (Willis & Carmichael, 2011).

Academic ability has not been a predictor of academic failure in graduate schools (Berelson, 1960; Lovitts, 2001, chap 6; Tucker, 1964). For instance, sixty percent of graduate students who had less than a 3.00 grade point average completed their doctoral education, which was comparable to the overall sample (Tucker, 1964). More recently, Lovitts (2001, chap 6) reported that noncompleters did not have significantly different grade point averages from completers. However, graduate school deans, faculty, and the students themselves attribute attrition to the students, and graduate schools have sought to ameliorate this problem by emphasizing selection criteria, even though this strategy has not been proven successful (Lovitts, 1996; 2001, chap. 1).

Innate Psychological Needs

One theory that may help explain the high attrition rate of graduate students is Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT describes the socio-context variables that assist and impede human motivation, performance, and development (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991; Deci & Vansteenkiste, 2004). These socio-context variables are innate psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 1994; Deci et al., 1991; Ryan & Deci, 2000). When people have autonomy, their behavior is self-determined, and they have the option of choosing what they do. In other words, they are not controlled (Black & Deci, 2000). Competence is understanding how to achieve desired outcomes and having the self-efficacy to carry out the actions required in the specific context (Deci et al, 1991). A feeling of relatedness is the feeling of being valued and cared for. A sense of relatedness provides a dual role: (a) it provides support for intrinsic motivation and (b) it gives people incentives to do activities that are valued by significant others (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Deci et al., 1991; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Research indicates that positive outcomes (such as interest, enjoyment, lower anxiety, fewer grade-focused goals, higher self-regulation, higher course performance, and persistence) occur when these innate psychological needs are met (Black & Deci, 2000; Vansteenkiste, Simons, Lens, Sheldon, & Deci, 2004). …

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