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  • Procrastinating in College:Students' Readiness and Resistance to Change
  • Lauren c. Hensley (bio) and Jessica L. Cutshall (bio)

Procrastination, the deferral of activities until a later time, is widespread yet problematic in college (Steel, 2007). Practitioners in various student-affairs contexts address procrastination (Truschel & Reedy, 2009), but not all students benefit from this support (Dembo & Seli, 2004). To understand this challenge, we explored students' written reflections about whether their procrastination habits changed during the semester in which they took a study-skills course, as well as why they believed change had (or had not) occurred. Our purpose was to illuminate processes behind changes in procrastination while also giving voice to students' difficulties in changing.


The study of procrastination reveals important mechanisms in college students' success. Researchers have documented ties between procrastination and poor grades (Richardson, Abraham, & Bond, 2012), as well as academic [End Page 498] stress and reduced well-being (Meier, Reinecke, & Meltzer, 2016). In survey research, both administrators (Truschel & Reedy, 2009) and students (Kachgal, Hansen, & Nutter, 2001) have identified procrastination as a major obstacle to success in college. Habitual procrastination can lead students to use ineffective strategies such as cramming, to fail courses essential to their degree progress, to struggle to connect to university life, or to underperform in key job responsibilities. With mixed success, practitioners in an array of functional areas have addressed procrastination in efforts to prevent these outcomes (Baldwin, Wilkinson, & Barkley, 2000; Dembo & Seli, 2004; Toms & Reedy, 2016; Wheeler, 2012).

Study-skills courses may provide special insight into addressing procrastination. The intervention occurs over a prolonged period, focuses on developing students' academic strategies, and offers a scaffolded environment involving both student- and teacher-generated feedback (Hofer & Yu, 2003). Acknowledging that many college students who learn about effective study habits do not adopt new behaviors nor improve their academic performance, Dembo and Seli (2004) urged researchers to engage in qualitative inquiry concerning students' resistance to changing unproductive behaviors. Grunschel and Schopenhauer (2015) suggested, based on surveys of 377 German undergraduates, that students may differentially benefit from procrastination interventions based on their readiness to change. The present study extended these two earlier lines of inquiry with the purpose of uncovering conditions that facilitated or prevented changes in college students' procrastination.


Our aim in this study was "generating grounded theory of/for educational practice" (Piantanida, Tananis, & Grubs, 2004, p. 325), an approach that infuses the perspectives and methods of grounded theory into practice-based research of concerns and unanswered questions in educational practices. An interpretivist framework guided the study, reflecting our view that knowledge can be formed through "descriptions of people's intentions, beliefs, values, . . . reasons, meaning making and self-understanding" (Henning, 2004, p. 20). We used this framework, together with grounded theory methodology, to generate knowledge inductively from the viewpoints of those who had experienced the phenomenon of procrastination (Charmaz, 2001).

Participants and Data Collection

Participants in the study were 303 undergraduates at a large, 4-year, public university in the Midwestern United States in Spring 2014. All students in the sample had completed a three-credit study-skills course. In the first and last weeks of the course, students completed a 16-item self-assessment of their procrastination tendencies (for items, see Tuckman, 1991). At the end of the semester, students wrote an open-ended reflection based on the following prompt: "Consider what your procrastination score was at the beginning of the term. You can find it by looking at [link to earlier assignment]. Has your score gone up, down, or stayed the same? Why do you think this is?" We received approval from our university's institutional review board to examine existing materials generated by students' course participation. The sample included all students who submitted the reflection (70% of course-takers). The mean age was 20 years (SD = 3.0), with 32% first-year, 33% second-year, 18% third-year, and 17% fourth-year students.


We, the two authors who had taught the [End Page 499] course previously, reviewed the full data set and coded written reflections in multiple stages. We met with each other throughout the process and debriefed regularly with four other education researchers. We began...


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