This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Motivation, Stress, and Satisfaction of Graduate Students: A Comparative Study of Student Parents and Non-Parents




Yoo, Hyeon Jean

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology


This study investigated the motivational orientation, perceived stress, and general satisfaction of student parents (i.e., students who have dependent children) and non-parents (i.e., students who do not have dependent children) in graduate school. Based on self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985), this study examined the 1) the influence of parental status and student major on graduate students’ motivation, stress, and satisfaction and 2) the influence of gender and student major on graduate student parents’ motivation, stress, and satisfaction. A quantitative research design was used to address two research questions. The Academic Motivation Scale – College Version (AMS – C; Vallerand et al., 1992), the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS – 14; Cohen et al., 1983), and the Extended Satisfaction with Life Scale (ESWLS; Alfonso et al., 1996) were used in this study. Participants were students enrolled at a large southeastern research institution in the U.S. during the Summer semester, 2018. Survey data were analyzed through a factorial ANOVA. The result of this study suggested that student parents and non-parents in graduate school may hold different motivations and levels of stress and satisfaction. Through the analysis, a student parent group showed higher motivation than a non-parent group. As for the stress level, student parents had significantly lower levels of stress and higher levels of general life satisfaction than non-parents. This result implies that graduate students who have dependent children are more engaged with learning for the fulfillment of achieving or creating something, while students who do not have dependent children may be driven by external influences, such as praise, rewards, and punishment evidence than their counterpart. Moreover, contrary to previous research that student parents are more likely to experience higher levels of stress and lower levels of satisfaction, participants of our study showed the opposite. This result suggests that student parents might benefit from their multiple roles and get emotional comfort and support from their family, which can positively influence their academic and parenting roles. No significant influence of student major nor the interaction term of parental status and student major were found on graduate students. In terms of the influence of gender and student major on graduate student parents, there were no significant influences found. Although motherhood, especially those in STEM fields, has been described as incompatible with academia (Crabb & Ekberg, 2014), the result of this study implies that the experience of graduate student fathers may be very similar to those of mothers. As there are few studies exclusively focusing on student fathers (Dillon, 2012; Thomas, 2014), studies focusing on the experiences of student fathers are warranted. Overall, this study found that both female and male student parents, whether they are in STEM or non-STEM fields, have higher levels of motivation, lower levels of stress, and higher levels of satisfaction. These findings are partly consistent with previous studies of adult education, that nontraditional adult learners hold higher levels of intrinsic motivation in learning. This suggests that faculty and instructors should provide quality instructions and take adequate strategies to support and keep these students motivated in learning. Moreover, developing family-friendly policies and holding flexibility within the institution to assist this group of students in balancing their multiple roles is crucial.