Self-Determination: Motivational Profiles of Bachelor’s Degree Seeking Students at an Online, For-Profit University

Carol Pugh


Grounded in the self-determination theory, this exploratory quantitative study investigated motivational profiles of bachelor’s degree seeking students at an online, for-profit university.  Cluster analysis revealed two distinct motivational profiles (internally and externally regulated) of 158 students enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program.  The significant differences between the two profiles offers support for the multidimensional nature of motivation as argued by self-determination theory.  A chi-square test of independence revealed a significant association between motivational profile membership and gender.  No associations were found between motivational profile membership and age.  The results offer insights into the motivations of bachelor’s degree seeking students attending an online, for-profit university.  Over two-thirds of the students in this study exhibited high external forms of motivation.  It is recommended practitioners employ methods to increase autonomous forms of motivation in the online, for-profit educational setting.  Understanding student motivations to graduate may help administrators, curriculum designers, and instructors develop focused interventions and best practices that could be used to increase graduation rates.


self-determination theory, motivational profiles, academic motivation scale, online education

Full Text:



Aparicio, M., Bacao, F., & Oliveira, T. (2017). Full length article: Grit in the path to e-learning success. Computers in Human Behavior, 66, 388-399. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.10.009

Ardenska, A., Tomik, R., Berber, S., Duz, B., Çivak, B., Caliskan, U., & Ogrodnik, J. (2016). A comparison of physical education students' motivation using Polish and Turkish versions of the Academic Motivation Scale. Journal of Human Kinetics, 54(1), 207-218.

Atalay, K., Can, G., Erdem, S., & Muderrisoglu, I. (2016). Assessment of mental workload and academic motivation in medical students. JPMA. The Journal of The Pakistan Medical Association, 66(5), 574-578.

Boiche, J., & Stephan, Y. (2014). Motivational profiles and achievement: A prospective study testing potential mediators. Motivation & Emotion, 38(1), 79-92. doi:10.1007/s11031-013-9361-6

Bok, D. (2013). Higher Education in America. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Bonnet, D., & Wright, T. (2015). Cronbach's alpha reliability: Interval estimation, hypothesis testing, and sample size planning. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36(1), 3-15. doi:10.1002/job.1960

Braten, I., & Ferguson, L. (2015). Beliefs about sources of knowledge predict motivation for learning in teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 50, 13-23. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2015.04.003

Bray, B., Lanza, S., & Tan, X. (2015). Eliminating bias in classify-analyze approaches for latent class analysis. Structural Equation Modeling-A Multidisciplinary Journal, 22(1), 1-11.

Can, G. (2015). Turkish version of the Academic Motivation Scale. Psychological Reports, 116(2), 388-408. doi:10.2466/14.08.PR0.116k24w5

Carroll, J. (2016). Academic motivation of degree-seeking undergraduate students at a for-profit university in the United States. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

Chemolli, E., & Gagne, M. (2014). Evidence against the continuum structure underlying motivation measures derived from Self-Determination Theory. Psychological Assessment, 26(2), 575-585.

Claybrooks, S., & Taylor, F. (2016). Student persistence and use of a college success course in proprietary postsecondary education. College Student Journal, 50(2), 199-211.

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical Power Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Complete College America. (2012). Remediation: Higher Education's Bridge to Nowhere. Complete College America. Retrieved from

Cronbach, L. (1951). Coefficient alpha and the internal structure of tests. Psychometrika, 16 (3), 297-334.

Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, NY: Plenum Publishing Corp.

Deming, D., Goldin, C., & Katz, L. (2013). For-profit colleges. Future of Children, 137-163.

Donhardt, G. (2013). The fourth-year Experience: Impediments to degree completion. Innovative Higher Education, 38(3), 207-221. doi:10.1007/s10755-012-9234-z

Durso, S., Cunha, J., Neves, P., & Teixeira, J. (2016). Motivational factors for the master's degree: A comparison between students in accounting and economics in the light of the self-determination theory. Revista Contabilidade & Finanças, 27(71), 243-258. doi:10.1590/1808-057x201602080

Economic Policy Institute. (2014, December). The need to address noncognitive skills in education policy (Brief No. 386). Washington, DC: Emma Garcia.

Emerson, R. (2017). Likert scales. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 111(5), 488.

Formann, A. (1984). Latent class analysis—Introduction to theory and application. Weinheim: Beltz.

Fryer, L., Bovee, N., & Nakao, K. (2014). E-learning: Reasons students in language learning courses don't want to. Computers & Education, 74, 26-36. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2014.01.008

Garson, G. (2015). Missing values analysis & data imputation. Asheboro, NC: Statistical Publishing Associates.

Gillet, N., Fouquereau, E., Lafreniere, M., & Huyghebaert, T. (2016). Examining the roles of work autonomous and controlled motivations on satisfaction and anxiety as a function of role ambiguity. The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 150(5), 644-665. doi:10.1080/00223980.2016.1154811

Ghiasvand, A., Naderi, M., Tafreshi, M., Ahmadi, F., & Hosseini, M. (2017). Relationship between time management skills and anxiety and academic motivation of nursing students in Tehran. Electronic Physician, 9(1), 3678-3684. doi:10.19082/3678

Goulimaris, D. (2015). The relation between distance education students’ motivation and satisfaction. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 16(2), 13–27.

Gresham, B., Thompson, M., Luedtke-Hoffmann, K., & Tietze, M. (2015). Institutional and program factors predict physical therapist assistant program graduation rate and licensure examination pass rate. Journal of Physical Therapy Education,29(4), 27-36.

Guay, F., Morin, A., Litalien, D., Valois, P., & Vallerand, R. (2015). Application of exploratory structural equation modeling to evaluate the Academic Motivation Scale. The Journal of Experimental Education, 83, 51-82. doi:10.1080/00220973.2013.876231

Hartnett, M. (2016). Motivation in online education. Singapore: Springer.

Haslofca, F., & Korkmaz, N. (2016). Reliability and validity of academic motivation scale for sports high school students’. SHS Web of Conferences, 26, 1-8. doi:10.1051/shsconf/20162601104

Hodge, A. (2017). The 6th International Conference on self-determination theory: A review and emerging themes. Sport & Exercise Psychology Review, 13(1), 94–96.

Horn, A., & Lee, G. (2016). The reliability and validity of using regression residuals to measure institutional effectiveness in promoting degree completion. Research in Higher Education, 57(4), 469-496.

Howard, J., Gagne, M., Morin, A., & Forest, J. (2016). Sing bifactor exploratory structural equation modeling to test for a continuum structure of motivation. Journal of Management. [Online Publication] doi:10.1177/0149206316645653

Howard, J., Gagne, M., Morin, A., & Van den Broeck, A. (2016). Motivation profiles at work: A self-determination theory approach. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 95-96, 74-89. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2016.07.004

Institute of Education Sciences. (2017). The condition of education 2017 (Publication No. NCES2017144). Retrieved from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics website:

Jeno, L., Grytnes, J., & Vandvik, V. (2017). The effect of a mobile-application tool on biology students' motivation and achievement in species identification: A Self-Determination Theory perspective. Computers & Education, 107, 1-12. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2016.12.011

Kero, P., & Lee, D. (2016). Likert is pronounced "LICK-urt" not "LIE-kurt" and the data are ordinal not interval. Journal of Applied Measurement, 17(4), 502-509.

Keshtidar, M., & Behzadnia, B. (2017). Prediction of intention to continue sport in athlete students: A self-determination theory approach. Plos ONE, 12(2), 1-10. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0171673

Khine, M. (2016). Non-cognitive skills and factors in educational success and academic achievement. In M. Khine & S. Areepattamannil (Eds.), Non-Cognitive Skills & Factors in Educational Attainment (Vol. 9, pp. 3-9). doi:10.1007/978-94-6300-591-3_1

Kimmel, S., Gaylor, K., & Hayes, J. (2014). Understanding adult learners by gender. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 18(2), 73-89.

Knowles, M. (1984). Andragogy in action. Applying modern principles of adult education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kriegbaum, K., Villarreal, B., Wu, V., & Heckhausen, J. (2016). Parents still matter: Patterns of shared agency with parents predict college students’ academic motivation and achievement. Motivation Science, 2(2), 97-115. doi:10.1037/mot0000033

Kusurkar, R., Croiset, G., Galindo-Garre, F., & Cate, O. (2013). Motivational profiles of medical students: association with study effort, academic performance and exhaustion. BMC Medical Education, 13(87), 1-8. doi:10.1186/1472-6920-13-87

Lange, D. (2015). The relationship of psychosocial factors and academic success (Order No. 3740485). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1753056471). Retrieved from

Leedy, P., & Ormrod, J. (2016). Practical research: Planning and design (11thEd.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Li, C., Wu, Y., & Kee, A. (2016). Validation of the volunteer motivation scale and its relation with work climate and intention among Chinese volunteers. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 19(2), 124-133. doi: 10.1111/ajsp.12127

Lindwall, M., Ivarsson, A., Weman-Josefsson, K., Jonsson, L., Ntoumanis, N., Patrick, H., & ... Teixeira, P. (2017). Stirring the motivational soup: within- person latent profiles of motivation in exercise. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity, 14, 1-12. doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0464-4

Lipe, D., & Waller, L. (2013). The impact of a program-specific orientation course on student retention at a for-profit, post-secondary institution. Focus on Colleges, Universities & Schools, 7(1), 1-14.

Little, R. (1988). A test of missing completely at random for multivariate data with missing values. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 83, 1198–1202.

Liu, W., Wang, C., Kee, Y., Koh, C., Lim, B., & Chua, L. (2014). College students' motivation and learning strategies profiles and academic achievement: a self-determination theory approach. Educational Psychology, 34(3), 338-353.

Malone, S. (2014). Characteristics of adult learners. Training & Development (1839-8561), 41(6), 10-13.

Manerikar, V., & Manerikar, S. (2015). Cronbach's alpha. Aweshkar Research Journal, 19(1), 117-119.

McQuain, B., Neill, M., Sammons, D., & Coffland, D. (2016). Using an Appreciative Inquiry Approach to Enhance Intrinsic Motivation in Higher Education Courses. AI Practitioner, 18(4), 77-83. doi:10.12781/978-1-907549-29-8-13

Melzer, D., & Grant, R. (2016). Investigating differences in personality traits and academic needs among prepared and underprepared first-year college students. Journal of College Student Development, 57(1), 99-103.

Mih, C., & Mih, V. (2016). Fear of failure, disaffection, and procrastination as mediators between controlled motivation and academic cheating. Cognitie, Creier, Comportament/Cognition, Brain, Behavior, 20(2), 117-132.

Moreno-Murcia, J., Gimeno, E., Hernandez, E., Belan-do Pedreno, N., & Marin, J. (2013). Motivational profiles in physical education and their relation to the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 12(3), 551-558.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). IPEDS: Integrated postsecondary education data system: Look up institution. Retrieved from

Nikou, S., & Economides, A. (2017). Full length article: Mobile-Based Assessment: Integrating acceptance and motivational factors into a combined model of Self-Determination Theory and Technology Acceptance. Computers in Human Behavior, 68, 83-95. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.11.020

Orsini, C., Binnie, V., Evans, P., Ledezma, P., Fuentes, F., & Villegas, M. (2015). Psychometric validation of the academic motivation scale in a dental student sample. Journal of Dental Education, 79(8), 971-981.

Orsini, C., Binnie, V., Fuentes, F., Ledezma, P., & Jerez, O. (2016). Implications of motivation differences in dental students’ preclinical-clinical transition: A one-year follow-up study. Educacion Medica, 17(4), 193-196. doi: 10.1016/j.edumed.2016.06.007

Patle, G. Libang, A., & Ahuja, S. (2016). Analysis of rainfall and temperature variability and trend detection: A non-parametric Mann Kendall test approach. Computing for Sustainable Global Development, 17-23.

Paixao, O., & Gamboa, V. (2017). Motivational profiles and career decision making of high school students. Career Development Quarterly,65(3), 207-221. doi:10.1002/cdq.12093

Pyburn, E. (2015). Persons can speak louder than variables: Person-centered analyses and the prediction of student success. (Master’s Thesis). Retrieved from

Quiggins, A., Ulmer, J., Hainline, M., Burris, S., Ritz, R., & Van Dusen, R. (2016). Motivations and barriers of undergraduate nontraditional students in the college of agricultural sciences and natural resources at Texas Tech University. NACTA Journal, 60(3), 272-281

Rothes, A., Lemos, M., & Goncalves, T. (2017). Motivational profiles of adult learners. Adult Education Quarterly, 67(1), 3-29. doi:10.1177/0741713616669588

Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Ryan, R., Wang, J., Morin, A., & Liu, W. (2016). Students’ motivational profiles in the physical education context. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 38, 612–630.

Saris, W., & Gallhofer, I. (2014). Design, evaluation, and analysis of questionnaires for survey research. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Schak, O., Metzger, I., Bass, J., McCann, C., & English, J. (2017). Developmental education: Challenges and strategies for reform. Retrieved from the Department of Education website:

Sibley, B., & Bergman, S. (2016). Relationships among goal contents, exercise motivations, physical activity, and aerobic fitness in university physical education courses. Perceptual & Motor Skills, 122(2), 678-700.

Stover, J., Iglesia, G., Boubeta, A., & Liporace, M. (2012). Academic motivation scale: Adaptation and psychometric analyses for high school and college students. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 5, 71-83.

Taylor, G., Jungert, T., Mageau, G., Schattke, K., Dedic, H., Rosenfield, S., & Koestner, R. (2014). A self-determination theory approach to predicting school achievement over time: The unique role of intrinsic motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 39(4), 342–358.

Thomas, J., & Borrayo, E. (2016). The impact of perceived stress and psychosocial factors on missed class and work in college students. Journal of College Counseling, 19(3), 246-260. doi:10.1002/jocc.12047

Tighe, K. (2013). Semiannual report to congress (Report No. 66). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General website:

Ulmer, W., Means, D., Cawthon, T., & Kristensen, S. (2016). Investigation of remedial education course scores as a predictor of introduction-level course performances: A case analysis at one for-profit institution. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 18(1), 109-130. doi:10.1177/1521025115579675

Usaci, D. (2015). The impact of psychological control on academic motivation. Journal Plus Education / Educatia Plus, 12(1), 35-59.

Vallerand, R., Pelletier, L., Blais, M., Briere, N., Senecal, C., & Vallieres, E. (1992). The Academic Motivation Scale: A measure of intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation in education. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 52(4), 1003-1017. doi:10.1177/0013164492052004025

Vanslambrouck, S., Chang, Z., Tondeur, J., Phillipsen, B., & Lombaerts, K. (2016). Adult learners' motivation to participate and perception of online and blended environments. Proceedings of The European Conference on E-Learning, 750-757.

Walker, L. (2016). A bridge to success: A nursing student success strategies improvement course. Journal of Nursing Education, 55(8), 450-453. doi:10.3928/01484834-20160715-05

Wang, J., Morin, A., Ryan, R., Liu, W., Wang, J., & Morin, A. (2016). Students' motivational profiles in the physical education context. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 38(6), 612-630. doi:10.1123/jsep.2016-0153

Yimeng, G., Kopec, J., Cibere, J., Li, L., & Goldsmith, C. (2016). Population survey features and response rates: A randomized experiment. American Journal of Public Health, 106(8), 1422-1426.

Zhou, M. (2016b). Chinese university students' acceptance of MOOCs: A self-determination perspective. Computers & Education, 92-93, 194-203. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2015.10.012