In Germany, approximately 28% of first-year bachelor students from 2008 to 2009 dropped out without completing their first bachelor’s degree (Heublein 2014). Moreover, above average rates of 31% to 39% were found in the so called MINT (mathematics, informatics, natural sciences, technology; a German acronym for the term STEM) subjects. Previous studies have revealed that one of the main factors for dropout and similar outcomes (such as dropout intention) is academic motivation (e.g. Vallerand, Fortier, and Guay 1997; Vallerand and Bissonnette 1992). Furthermore, according to Heublein et al. (2010), a lack of academic motivation often led to relatively early dropout, especially in bachelor programmes at German higher education institutions. However, to date, most empirical research has focused on a single global relationship between academic motivation, based on self-determination theory (SDT; Deci and Ryan 2000), and educational outcomes.
Therefore, the aim of study published in the European Journal of Higher Education was to answer the question: Do the effects of academic motivation, more precisely, intrinsic motivation (individuals perform an activity because they find it interesting in itself and do it without any external consequences, e.g. they study for the sheer pleasure), identified regulation (individuals identify with the underlying value of an activity, e.g. they study because it is important for the future career), introjected regulation (individuals perform an activity because of internal pressures, such as pride or guilt, e.g. they study to prove themselves that they are intelligent), and external regulation (individuals engage in an activity to receive a reward or to avoid punishment, e.g. they study to earn more money later on), on intention to drop out differ between students?
Using the method of clusterwise linear regression, our main purpose was to reveal groups of students with group-specific relationships between SDT motivation and the intention to drop out at the beginning of studies. We identified three subpopulations of students.
Results showed that intrinsic motivation was the strongest significant predictor in each of the three groups, whereas in none of the groups external regulation did significantly predict the intention to drop out. Moreover, our results revealed that the stronger the group-specific impact of intrinsic motivation on the intention to drop out, the higher the group-specific average intention to drop out. In particular we detected one group of students, in which it seems that even small changes in the degree of intrinsic motivation could lead to the decision to drop out. Therefore our findings suggest that it is important for higher education institutions to create environments that enhance students’ intrinsic motivation, especially in order to prevent potential dropout. Measures that may enhance intrinsic motivation are discussed in our paper.