Should I stay or should I go? : the effects of student individual differences on stress and estimated gains from the university experience
The aim of this thesis was to identify factors at the commencement of university study that may enable prediction of both estimate of gains and experience of stresses. This was done in order to provide information that may enable early identification of risk factors in respect to student attrition. To this end, the thesis examined individual differences amongst students that relate to perception of both estimated gains and stress early in the university experience. Initially, the individual differences studied were those relating to student demographics of age, gender, whether the student performed additional part-time work and the number of hours of work performed and the influence of finances. This first round of testing was performed by distributing questionnaires examining the aforementioned via student welcome packs at commencement of university study. The results of this first round of testing suggested particular importance of intrinsic values on estimated gains. In addition to some influence of finances, gender and hours of work. From open questions present in this first round of testing, focus group questions were formulated in order to further develop the questionnaire. From the findings of study two, this was then expanded to include the influence of perceived demands, control and support and locus of control on estimated gains and subjective perceived stress. This was again performed by distributing a questionnaire at inception, albeit personally to help response rate and answer any queries. This third round of testing, as implied by the focus group responses, found an additional influence of locus of control and the perception of demands, control and support on estimated gains and stress. Finally, the fourth round of testing included biological indicators of stress, namely salivary cortisol levels through the use of analysis of levels of salivary cortisol, collected using a salivette. This final study suggested a difference in the effects of perceived demands, control and support on both perceived and biological responses to stress The study in all found that there is a definite prediction of estimate of gains from the university environment by the work values studied. Although it was found that gains were primarily influenced by intrinsic values (achievement, advancement, autonomy, personal development), an influence of extrinsic values (economics, prestige, social interaction) was also evident. In addition to work values, demographics of gender, age and hours of work were also found to influence differences in estimated gains and stress. None of the values studied were found to predict perceived stress, however the distinction between perceived and objective biological measures of stress was highlighted. In particular, with regard to the perception of demands, control and support from the university environment. The results of the study also suggested that the extent to which students perceive demands, control and support from the university environment may also have an impact on the student experience of stress, particularly biological stress, which can result in potential harm to physical well-being.