- The Relationship Between College Students' Sense of Purpose and Degree Commitment
For several decades, scholars have been exploring the factors that influence college students' persistence and retention. Several of the retention theories and models have emphasized the role of sense of purpose and degree commitment in contributing to college students' persistence. For instance, Tinto (1993) noted attrition as a longitudinal and interactional process that is influenced by a number of factors including students' own intentions, goals, commitments, and purpose. Tinto emphasized that students' underlying intentions and overarching purpose directly impact their academic performance, faculty interactions, extracurricular activities, and peer group interactions, which further impact their academic and social integration and hence their decision to persist or withdraw from college. Students' sense of purpose regarding what motivates them, what they want to do, and where they are going, contributes to their lifelong learning, college persistence, career success, and personal development (Chickering, 1994). Empirical studies have also shown that goal commitment and certainty of purpose contribute to college students' persistence (Hill, Burrow, & Bronk, 2016). Research has also shown a positive relationship between college students' degree commitment and institutional commitment, important predictors of college persistence (Nora & Cabrera, 1993). Since students' goals, commitment, intentions, and purpose influence their decision to persist during college (Hill et al., 2016; Tinto, 1993), our aim was to explore the relationship between students' sense of purpose and degree commitment.
Scholars have defined purpose in multiple ways. Some have referred to purpose as a long-term goal or commitment that people aspire to achieve (Bronk, 2011). Others have conceptualized purpose as an overarching aspiration to make a positive difference in society or contribute to the greater good (Staples & Troutman, 2010). Damon, Menon, and Bronk (2003) defined purpose as "a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self" (p. 121). Based on this definition and empirical work on purpose, Sharma, Yukhymenko-Lescroart, and Kang (2017) developed the multidimensional Sense of Purpose Scale, which has three subscales: awareness of purpose, awakening to purpose, and altruistic purpose subscales.
Awareness of purpose subscale assesses "the extent to which people are currently aware and moving toward fulfillment of their purpose in life" (Sharma et al., 2017, p. 8). Whereas, awakening to purpose subscale assesses the extent to which people are actively engaging [End Page 486] in the process of exploring their purpose in life and gaining clarity about their long-term goals. Most of the other measures of purpose, such as the Purpose in Life (PIL) test developed by Crumbaugh and Maholick (1964), focus only on the absolute presence or absence of a sense of purpose. This makes it difficult to assess changes in people's sense of purpose over time or as a result of an intervention (Dik, Steger, Gibson, & Peisner, 2011). For that reason, we decided to use the scale that could measure both awareness of purpose and awakening to purpose as distinct constructs.
Altruistic purpose subscale assesses "people's desire to make a positive difference in the world" (Sharma et al., 2017, p. 8). Though everyone's life's purpose is not altruistic in nature, research has demonstrated a positive relationship between prosocial purpose and students' college satisfaction and well-being (Hill, Burrow, O'Dell, & Thornton, 2010). In the context of college persistence, Leppel (2005) found that students whose purpose encompassed aspirations to make a positive difference in society were more likely to continue their college education compared to those who chose college solely to fulfill financial goals. Our aim was to examine the relationship between all three subscales of purpose and degree commitment.
After obtaining an IRB approval, recruitment e-mails with a link to the anonymous online survey were sent to the department assistants, with a request to distribute it to the students in their department. Participants were 1,010 students (75.9% female) from a large urban public university in the Western United States. The sample included 115 (11.4%) first-year students, 108 (10.7%) sophomores, 196 (19.4%) juniors, 234 (23.2%) seniors, 337 (33.4%) graduate students, and 20 (2...