10 Predictors of Student Academic Achievement: A Review of University Students Motivation for Learning in Liberia


What if academic decision-makers could predict at the point of admission that a student has the requisite motivating traits to be academically successful? If so, what specific motivating factors could be used to predict the student’s level of performance? In other words, what are the noncognitive factors (individual and social) that could influence a student’s cognitive skills and abilities? Many colleges and universities focus on results such as GPA, admission exams, and standardized test scores to determine whether a student is prepared for specific college level learning; and they use those scores in making admission decisions. While researchers have not agreed on a specific predictor of academic success that is applicable to all students, there is a growing body of knowledge that supports the concept that noncognitive (individual and social) traits can impact student academic achievement. Brian Davidson (2017) discussed a study of the Intrinsic Profile of students, where a psychometric assessment tool was employed on more than 350 students to measure the synthesized model of their noncognitive skills, to ascertain the relationship between the student’s noncognitive skills and academic performance. Intrinsic Profile measures whether a student is likely to be highly self-motivated, with high levels of discipline and perseverance, and be able to adjust to change. The composite scores of students in the study revealed that their noncognitive skills were directly related to their academic performance. Based on those findings, and that of other studies; it has been evidenced that students that are highly conscientious and disciplined tend to perform successfully academically.

For this study, the survey instrument was designed to gather similar intrinsic and extrinsic traits of key non-curricula (noncognitive) factors of students at three universities in Liberia. The study was conducted to determine each student’s motivation for learning and academic success. Just as achievement is a product of learning, studies have shown that motivation is a factor of learning. Therefore, one can infer that the link between motivation, learning and achievement are corresponding. So, any discussion on student academic achievement should consider motivation, whether intrinsic or extrinsic.

Researchers believe that there is no randomness to why there are higher levels of student drop‐outs in some schools, and less student drop-outs at others. It has been documented that some student groups are more susceptible than others to drop out of school. The association between a student’s societal well‐being and his or her level of education has been discovered by researchers and policymakers to have an impact on whether that student remains in school and perform well or drop out. Furthermore, the issue of equity in education; considering gender, race, and ethnicity, for example, is gaining traction in the discussions of student academic achievement. However, this paper is limited in scope, therefore it focuses on student individual and social motivations for academic achievement. The paper seeks to identify the most dominant motivators for Liberian university students in pursuing academic success.

The two types of motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic) discussed in this paper are important to learning. Intrinsic motivation is comprised of the learner’s sincere fascination with the the contents and desire to learn. That is, when the student realizes a sense of relevance in the course contents, and there is a sense of accomplishment in mastering the subject. Extrinsic motivation on the other hand includes such things as expectations, earning potential, or maintaining high GPA’s in order to keep a scholarship. While there are advantages and disadvantages for intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, according to Tom Rath (2015), meaningful work is driven by intrinsic motivation, rather than extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivation derives from the significance of the work, not the reward one hopes to receive. Intrinsic motivation has long term values, while extrinsic motivation is more short term and can produce quick impact. Effecting intrinsic motivation can be slow, while extrinsic motivators can produce almost immediate behavior changes; and may involve minimal efforts. Also, because extrinsic motivators are externally applied, they do not require much knowledge of individual students.

In terms of enrollment practices, most higher education institutions use criteria for academic achievement as substitute for intellectual output of students. While other institutions are programmed to measure student learning outcomes after interventions have been applied. Some colleges and universities use academic performance results such as GPA or scores from assessment tests to determine whether a student has the cognitive capacity to succeed in an academic program. Yet still, since learning involves multiple aspects of knowledge, including prior learning; and with the understanding that motivations are predictors of learning and academic success; this paper presents 10 noncognitive motivators that can influence student learning. Specifically, the paper probes into students’ individual and social motivations as predictors of their academic success. Since motivating students can add values to their learning, and today’s classroom is becoming more diverse in terms of culture, race, gender, and varying economic background; understanding how to motivate through diversity is an important component to learning and academic achievement. Identifying approaches to motivating a diverse student population can be challenging, but helpful to student learning.

Review of the Literature

The ability to predict whether a student would be at risk in completing an academic program can be a valued tool for university administrators. Such tools will empower universities to design academic support services and interventions to assist students. Traditionally, student academic achievement is measured by exams and assessments; but because such cognitive measures are often driven by academic disciplines, there is no single factor that can successfully predict the overall performance of a student by assessing only the student’s cognitive abilities. So, the specific effect of grades and GPA’s as the sole motivating factors for students to learn is a fallacy.

Furthermore, grading inconsistencies can occur within institutions, between courses; and some academic professional have questioned the validity of using GPA’s as the sole predictor of student success, or in deciding whether a student is likely to succeed. For instance, it is well evidenced that science and mathematics courses are difficult for most students, and therefore are often regarded as low scoring subjects. While courses such as English and history may be regarded as high grading courses. Given these possible inconsistencies, in a research designed to predict university students’ academic success and majors at the University of Toronto, Beaulac and Rosenthal (2011) developed a system that collapse undergraduate students grades across departments.

In another study intended to predict the effect of personality traits and social status on academic achievement and gender difference, researchers at the University of Belgrade, Serbia developed an instrument to help improve the understanding of the relationship between personality traits, dimensions of social status, and academic achievement. In that study, Janošević and Petrović (2013) evaluated the explanatory power of personality traits and dimensions of social status to predict academic achievement. The study found that in terms of personality traits, Conscientiousness was proven to be the most dominant trait that is strongly associated with academic achievement. Wikipedia defines Conscientiousness as the personality trait of being careful or diligent. It implies that the student has a desire to do a task well, and to take obligations to others seriously. Therefore, Conscientious students are more organized and efficient.

Background and Methodology Background: There are hundreds of definitions of learning; but the simplest meaning adopted for this paper is: “the process of building knowledge connections”. Learning therefore occurs when the learner associates current experience with what they already know, in order to develop new interpretations for incoming information. The following definitions of learning, based on the book “How Learning Works… (Susan Ambrose et. al, 2010)” are also espoused for this study because they provide a more comprehensive context for the paper: (1) Learning is a developmental process that occurs in the learner’s mind and can only inferred that it has occurred from the learner’s product or performance. (2) Learning must involve “Change in knowledge” with a lasting impact on how the learner thinks and acts; it must affect the learner’s behavior, belief, and attitude; and (3) Learning is not something done to the learner; rather, it is something that the learner does as a result of how the learner interprets his or her experiences.

The definition of academic achievement by Wikipedia… “the extent to which a student, teacher or institution attains short or long-term educational goals”… is adopted in this study. The completion of educational yardsticks such as attaining secondary school diplomas, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees represent academic achievement. Crow and Crow (1969) suggests that academic achievement is also the extent to which the learner is profiting from instructions in the given area of learning. Accordingly, they suggest that academic achievement is reflected by the “skills of knowledge” that have been acquired by the learner through the training imparted to the that individual. Although academic achievement and academic performance are sometime used interchangeably, there is difference. Academic achievement is when a learner attains long-term academic goals such as completing an academic program or earning a degree; whereas academic performance refers to short-term attainments like completing a course, earning a targeted test score, or reaching a desired GPA. For this paper, the adopted definition for Academic Achievement is reaching a desired learning goal.

Questionnaire Design: This study is based on a similar research conducted by Marić and Sakač (2014), University of Novi Sad in Vojvodina, Serbia; where 740 students in the College of Education and Philosophy were assessed to determine their dominant individual and social motivational factors for learning. As the basis for designing their instrument, Marić and Sakač considered Abraham Maslow (1954) hierarchy of needs; where self-actualization is the highest component of the pyramid. Maslow determined that it is at the level self-actualization where the boldest dynamic of strength in an individual is activated for thinking, reasoning, and identifying alternative means of problem-solving, and to improve one’s own abilities. The validity of Marić and Sakač (2014) instrument was rooted in several motivational theories that explain the influence of different internal and external factors on the motivations for learning; including self-determination theory, attribution theory, self-efficacy theory, expectancy-value theory, and achievement goal theory as discussed in Wentzel & Wigfield (2009).

The results of the Marić and Sakač (2014) study revealed that social motivational factors were more frequent among the students. Social factors such as material rewards, social prestige and appreciation by relevant social groups, social punishment avoidance and expectations of others were dominant in the study; while most of the students reported material rewards and social prestige as the central motivational factors for learning and achieving academic success. Whereas, individual factor such as perceived interest, perceived course content usefulness for personal development, internal satisfaction and internal aspirations for achievement were less dominant among students.

Using the Marić and Sakač (2014) research as a guide, this study designed similar survey questionnaire with one question: “What motivates you to want to become successful in school?” The following 10 motivators were developed as culturally adopted responses for participants to score:

  1. Appreciation of program and course contents (Intrinsic)
  2. Usefulness of Academic Program for personal development (Intrinsic)
  3. Personal Satisfaction for learning (Intrinsic)
  4. The prospect of attracting a Good Paying Job (Extrinsic)
  5. The prospect of receiving a Promotion or Salary Increase (Extrinsic)
  6. The desire for Societal Respect (Extrinsic)
  7. Being Acknowledged as an expert (Extrinsic)
  8. Expectations from Family and friends (Extrinsic)
  9. Plans to Pursue Graduate Education (Intrinsic)
  10. The desire to Share Knowledge with others (Extrinsic)

Similar to the Marić and Sakač study which employed 4 Individual and 6 Social Motivators; this study was developed around 5 Individual, and 5 Social Motivating factors. Motivators were measured by the levels of intrinsic or extrinsic values on the Likert scale of 1 to 5. The responses to each motivator were…Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Not Sure, Agree, to Strongly Agree.

Research Sample: The population for this study is comprised of all university students in the Republic of Liberia. There are 38 institutions of higher education in Liberia, including 19 baccalaureate and master’s degree granting institutions that account for approximately 60% of students enrolled at higher education institutions in Liberia. A sample size of 484 was collected from 3 universities (one public and two private) in Monrovia. The three selected universities enroll approximately 40% of the total student population among all 38 institutions of higher education in the nation. The three institutions in this study were selected based on their large and diverse student population, and multiplicity of academic programs.

A simple random sampling method was used to administer the survey instrument to participants at each institution. Students were asked to provide three basic information at the top of the survey questionnaire (university name, respondent’s gender, and date of survey) before completing the survey. No personal information was required. Research Assistants were deployed at each institution, and they collected data within a period of 5 days. Respondents were also asked to voluntarily participate in the study; and where possible, efforts were made to ensure that there was gender balance in the number of students surveyed.

Data Collection: The survey questions adopted for this study are associated with 10 motivating factors of academic achievement. In the questionnaire, students were asked to rate each motivating factor by targeting four gradations of motivation of intrinsic and extrinsic values, using a Psychometric scale of 1 to 5 choices, with 1 representing Strongly Disagree, and 5 representing Strongly Agree. Data collection was implemented by non-student Research Assistants (RA). Research Assistants were provided training on how to engage respondents before being dispatched to commence data collection. As part of the procedures, survey respondents were notified of the voluntary and confidential nature of the study. The list of Motivating factors was read aloud to each participant using Simple Liberian English, and nationally adopted words and phrases, where necessary, to provide greater explanation. After giving their consent to participate, each respondent was provided one survey questionnaire with instructions in completing the survey.

Results and Discussion

Results: The survey question was crafted to determine what motivate university students in Liberia to learn and pursue academic success. Survey data was collected from University-A, a large public institution with approximately 20,000 students, which reported 39.7% of responses amongst the three institutions. Male respondents at University-A were comprised of 59.9% of the total responses at that university; while female respondents comprised of 40.1% of participants. Data from University-B, a small private institution with approximately 5,000 students represents 37.8% of respondents among the three institutions; with 47% male respondents and 53% female respondents. Whereas University-C, a small private institution with 4,000 students reported 36% male respondents and 64% female respondents. Findings of this study seem to reinforce the gender proportion of general enrollment trends at Universities in Liberia; with a slightly higher female students (50.4%) respondents, and male student participation of 49.6%. F

Results of the study show that Individual (extrinsic) motivating factors, rather than Social (intrinsic) motivators, were more dominant for all respondents. The three most dominant motivators for all students in the study were of extrinsic values. The highest number of students (98.7%) answered that the most dominant motivation for them in wanting to pursue academic success was to receive a promotion, salary increase, or land a good paying job.

This study also reveals that in general, students are more likely to be motivated by social factors for the pursuit of academic achievement. Three of the 5 “Individual Motivators” in the study were scored least important by 91% of all respondents; while 4 of the 5 most dominant factors for academic achievement were “Social Motivators”, as scored by 98% of the respondents. The least dominant motivating factor for all respondents was “the desire to gain respect from people, or to be appreciated by others” for their academic achievement. This motivating factor was scored least important by 98.7% of respondents. The second most dominant motivating factors for academic achievement, according to 98.7% of respondents, was the “personal appreciation of Course contents or Program learning outcomes”.

When synthesized and analyzed by gender, female respondents reacted differently to the motivating factors for academic achievement compared to their male counterparts. For example, 98.4% of female respondents scored the factor of “Social Respect” (to be admired by others, and to avoid societal castigation), as well as “Social Expectations” (pressure from family and friends) were the most dominant motivating factors for them to pursue academic achievement. Meanwhile, 99.4% of male respondents scored “personal appreciation of a course contents” and the “values an academic program brings to their personal development” were the top two dominant motivating factors for wanting to acquire academic achievement. Moreover, the “desire to attract a good paying job” was least important to female respondents; while male respondents viewed Social Respect as the least motivating factor for pursuing academic achievement.

Conclusion and Recommendations

So, what motivates university students in Liberia to pursue academic success? While the result may vary by institution and societal dynamics; it is well documented that student motivation for learning can determine what they will do, and how far they will go to achieve academic success. Motivation for learning is important for college and university students because at the higher education level students have more autonomy over their own learning. So, if they lack motivation (intrinsic or extrinsic) to learn, the possibility for academic success can be reduced. Unlike K-12 students, college and university students have the option of choosing their courses, time, and in some instances, their preferred faculty; therefore, the values of motivation are almost as important as the knowledge itself. Therefore, it is important for students, faculty and administrators to understand which motivators can help boost academic performance.

The result of this study deviates slightly from those of the Marić and Sakač (2014) study which employed similar motivating factors. In their study, Mia Maric and Marija Sakac found that students in Serbia reported both high frequencies of Individual and Social factors as motivator for their pursuit of academic achievement. In that study of 740 students, a slightly higher number of respondents scored the Social factors of motivation such as material rewards, compared to respondents that selected Individual factors such as internal satisfaction for pursuing academic advancement.

Another study of 3,500 students conducted by Strang (2015), published on Cengage.com reported that 49% of college students indicated “Career Goals” as their primary motivating factor for wanting academic achievement. In that study, future earning was rated important by 17% of the students. The Strang (2015) study was conducted through an online survey during a period of 8 months; it asked students to indicate the top reason why they were motivated to succeed. The results show that GPA was a primary motivator by 14% of the students.

In this study, university students in Liberia reported varying degrees of motivation for pursuing academic achievement. The study revealed that male students are motivated more by intrinsic factors, while female students, on the other hand, are motivated by extrinsic factors. However, when reviewed together, the results show that both male and female university students noted that extrinsic motivators such as salary increase, promotion, and landing a better job influenced them for wanting to succeed academically. The pleasure of learning as a motivator was the second highest factor for all students in the study; while the desire to pursue further education was rated third important as a motivator. Social prestige, such as being recognized and respected by others was the least motivating factor for both male and female students.

There are two significant findings in this study that should appeal to university faculty and administrators in Liberia. First, the dominant factors of motivation for male students to pursue academic achievement are primarily Intrinsic in value. Male students are more likely to be driven by their interest and personal satisfaction of learning itself. Also, male students in the study tended to enjoy scholastic tasks that motivate them to do well. For the male students, learning must be personally satisfying, and it should promote personal development for their future. On the flip side, female university students in Liberia, according to the study, are much more motivated by extrinsic influences for learning and wanting to achieve academic success. That is, female students tend to seek academic achievement because of social good. The study shows that, for female students, knowledge is important for societal gains; the study also uncovered that for female students, achieving educational success is important to respond to social expectations, such as pressure from parents, teachers and friends; and for recognition. Therefore, the study concludes that female students are more influenced by social and societal motivational factors for the pursuit of academic success.

The second most important finding is that both male and female university students are motivated by specific (extrinsic) material rewards for seeking academic achievement. While the most dominant motivating factors for pursuing academic success by all students in the study were Intrinsic in values, students were specific about the type of reward they wanted for pursuing academic achievement. Students had the desire for specific return or to secure something specific such as grade, employment, salary, or promotion for pursuing academic achievement. This result is consistent with part of the value system for the millennial generation; in that there is an urge to gain rapid progress with minimal efforts (Marić and Sakač, 2014); and the desire for immediate material gains with identifiable social status.

Although the predictive power of each of the 10 motivators in this study are not fully measured, their combined influence shows that the most dominant motivating factors were Extrinsic: (I want to receive a pay raise or promotion at work; I like the academic programs and I enjoy the course contents; I want to attend graduate school after this program; the academic program seem to be useful to my development; my family and friends expect me to succeed). These results suggest that students are conscience of the fact that their personal desire for learning is also aided by external nonacademic influences besides grades and GPA’s. Because the study adopted noncognitive factors as motivators, it is important to note that the values involving students’ conscientiousness and interpersonal traits are inclusive, as those traits are more associated with the personality, temperament and attitudes toward success.

The importance of this study to administrators and faculty includes understanding how and when motivators truly affect student academic success. The findings also have practical implications for Liberia’s higher education system that is often challenged by capacity issues. Especially where it is shown that student academic success can be motivated by simple influences such as – when a course is fun and exciting to the student, and when faculty becomes role model to students”. Where student’s individual and social motivators are specific and can be identified, how could those factors be used to better predict student’s academic achievement and serve as support for early intervention.

This study is by no means conclusive on the issues of what motivates university students in Liberia to pursue academic achievement. But, if anything, the results show the need for further studies: For example, in furthering gender equity in education, additional studies are recommended to advance the understanding of why male university students are likely to be motivated by the satisfactions gained from course contents than female students. Additional research is needed to understand how university faculty in Liberia can motivate students to succeed academically. Third, why is it that male students are less likely to be motivated by social or societal (extrinsic) factors to achieve academic success? Finally, with the understanding that extrinsic motivators can produce almost immediate behavioral change, and requires relatively minor efforts; there is a need to identify various types of social motivators within the Liberian context for college and university students, to help boost their academic achievement.


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