Psychological Hardiness in Learning and Quality of College Life of Business Students: Evidence from Vietnam
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- Nguyen, T.D., Shultz, C.J. & Westbrook, M.D. J Happiness Stud (2012) 13: 1091. doi:10.1007/s10902-011-9308-0
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Vietnam’s continuing economic transformation has sharply increased the demand for highly-qualified business graduates. Vietnamese universities have responded to this increase in demand by improving the quality of their programs and raising their performance standards. The degree to which high-quality competitive programs increase students’ satisfaction with their educational experience is determined by their psychological hardiness in learning, their learning motivation, and their assessments of the functional value of business education. This study gathered survey data from a convenience sample of 1,024 business students in Vietnam, then validated measures of four constructs: Quality of College Life, psychological hardiness in learning, learning motivation, and perceived functional value of business education. The relationships among the constructs were estimated by Structural Equation Modeling. The results demonstrate that psychological hardiness in learning and learning motivation have statistically significant positive impacts on students’ perceived Quality of College Life. The impacts are significantly stronger for students with higher assessments of the functional value of a business education. These findings suggest that universities could enhance the Quality of College Life and academic performance by offering programs to cultivate students’ psychological hardiness in learning and their learning motivation, and by providing them with objective information about the functional value of business careers.
KeywordsQuality of college lifeLearning motivationPsychological hardiness in learningVietnam
Vietnam’s movement toward a market-oriented economy and accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) have created several opportunities and challenges. Opportunities include new markets for goods and services exports, access to imported raw materials and technologies, and more opportunities for international business co-operation. However, a more open market leads to more vigorous competition and to imposition of stricter business standards such as product quality and safety (Nguyen and Nguyen 2010). Among several challenges, lack of knowledge about business management is perhaps one of the most pressing for Vietnam. Thus, a crucial role of Vietnamese universities is to provide qualified business graduates for the Vietnamese labor market (Nguyen 2009). Understanding the labor market’s need for competent graduates, Vietnamese universities are striving to improve the quality of their programs. In so doing, universities put more pressure on Vietnamese students. Students now have more assignments and examinations to complete during their study time and performance standards are rising.
While raising objective standards is important for improving educational outcomes, the literature on psychological hardiness, learning motivation, and quality of college life suggests strategies for stimulating students to enhance their learning performance in a more competitive environment. In this paper we use data on Vietnamese business students to estimate a model relating psychological hardiness in learning to students’ perceptions of quality of college life. The results for Vietnamese students are consistent with previous literature and with our hypotheses: psychological hardiness in learning is positively related to perceived quality of college life, is mediated by learning motivation, and is moderated by students’ perceptions of the functional value of business education. These results guide our recommendations on how Vietnamese universities can enhance students’ abilities to make the most of their educational opportunities.
Cole et al. (2004) document the relationship between student psychological hardiness and learning motivation and Tharenou (2001) finds a relationship between learning motivation and learning outcomes. In addition, Rowold (2007) shows that higher learning motivation improves the ability to apply knowledge and skills to one’s work environment. Maddi (2002) argues that psychological hardiness, by enhancing individuals’ abilities to turn challenges into “developmentally provocative” opportunities, contributes to overall quality of life. Sirgy et al. (2007) develop and validate a measure of the Quality of College Life (QCL) that pertains specifically to the university experience.
We document the roles that psychological hardiness in learning, learning motivation, and functional value of business education play in determining the QCL of Vietnamese business students. Based on our results we advocate that the universities complement their higher performance standards with efforts to enhance QCL by offering training to enhance learning motivation and hardiness in learning, and by offering information on the functional value of business education. We expect that improvements in these determinants of QCL will enable students to rise to the challenge posed by higher standards. The remainder of the paper presents our literature review and hypotheses, methodology, results, and discussion and conclusions.
2 Literature Review and Hypotheses
2.1 Quality of College Life
Life satisfaction, subjective well-being, and quality of life are concepts that have attracted many researchers in the past several years (e.g., Cummins 2010; Cummins and Nistico 2002; Sirgy et al. 2007). Quality of life is a multidimensional concept that has been measured in a variety of ways (Vaez et al. 2004; Zullig et al. 2009). It can be defined in terms of overall life satisfaction (e.g., Vaez et al. 2004; Verbrugge and Asconi 1987) or it can focus on particular aspects of life. In this paper, we follow Sirgy et al. (2007) in exploring Quality of College Life (QCL), which is defined as students’ satisfaction with their educational experience during the time they study and live at university. Research on QCL can be divided into two main streams: research on factors affecting QCL and research on measuring it (Posadzki et al. 2009; Sirgy et al. 2007; Zullig et al. 2009). Our paper contributes to the first stream of research; we examine factors that affect QCL of Vietnamese business students.
A number of studies explore the factors affecting quality of college life in the developed world. For example, Vaez et al. (2004) examine the relationship between health status and quality of college life and discover that the quality of life for university students is lower than that of their working peers. Research conducted by Cha (2003) indicates that there is a positive relationship between quality of college life and personal factors such as optimism, self-esteem, etc. Chow (2005) showed that socio-economic status, experience in learning, living conditions, and other factors have positive relationships with students’ well-being.
During their years at university students are called upon to develop their cognitive and creative abilities; they develop knowledge and skills that will admit them to their chosen professions. Given the high stakes involved, this experience can be very stressful. Maddi (2002) argues that people who possess psychological hardiness find stressful challenges “developmentally provocative” and tend to respond to such challenges as opportunities. They also enjoy higher levels of health and life satisfaction. If we apply Maddi’s argument to university students, we expect those who exhibit psychological hardiness in learning will achieve academic success and will also enjoy a high QCL. Moreover, we believe that the impact of psychological hardiness in learning may be moderated by students’ inherent learning motivation and by their perceptions of the payoff that business education will provide in their professional lives to come. Indeed, the perception of the functional value of the business education may also moderate students’ learning motivation.
2.2 Learning Motivation
The concept of motivation is used “to explain what gets people going, keeps them going, and helps them finish tasks” (Pintrich 2003, 104). Motivation helps to establish and increase the quality of cognitive engagement, leading to success (Blumenfeld et al. 2006). There are several models of motivation, in which the following three components are almost always present: expectancy, value, and affect. Expectancy refers to one’s beliefs about one’s ability or skills to perform the task. Value is used to express one’s beliefs about the importance, interest, and utility of the task. The affective component is used to describe one’s feelings about the self or emotional reactions to the task (Pintrich 2003).
Research has shown that in business education differences in ability and motivation to learn affect students’ learning performance and professors’ teaching effectiveness (e.g., Cole et al. 2004; Diseth et al. 2010; Noe 1986). Following Noe (1986), we define learning motivation as the willingness to attend and learn the material presented in a university program. The measurement of learning motivation often focuses on individuals’ self-perceptions of efficacy, which are well-suited for predicting how well those individuals will perform (Cole et al. 2004).
While ability to learn defines what students can do, motivation to learn guides the decision-making process shaping the direction, focus, and level of effort that students apply to their learning activities (Cole et al. 2004). Learning motivation enhances educational accomplishment because students with high motivation to learn develop more effective strategies for learning and exhibit greater commitment to knowledge and skill accumulation (Blumenfeld et al. 2006; Nguyen and Nguyen 2010). Therefore, the level of satisfaction with their universities also improves. This relationship is described by our first hypothesis.
Learning motivation has a positive impact on students’ assessments of QCL.
2.3 Psychological Hardiness in Learning
Stress can generate psychological problems and can affect peoples’ effectiveness at working and studying. To overcome challenges introduced by stress, people need to be psychologically hardy. Psychological hardiness is a concept used to describe people’s commitment, control, and challenge in their lives (Maddi 2002; Britt et al. 2001). Commitment refers to a “tendency to involve oneself in (rather than experience alienation from) whatever one is doing or encounters”. Control is defined as a “tendency to feel and act as if one is influential (rather than helpless) in the face of the varied contingencies of life”. Challenge is described as a “belief that change rather than stability is normal in life and that the anticipation of changes are interesting incentives to growth rather than threats to security” (Kobasa et al. 1982, 169).
Research in education indicates that study at university is one of many causes of stress (e.g., Cole et al. 2004; Furr et al. 2001). During their lives at university, students not only have to focus on completing educational activities such as readings, assignments, projects, and examinations, but they also have to manage personal matters such as finances, part time jobs, and social activities. Psychological hardiness in learning plays an important role in the learning process. Students with high levels of psychological hardiness in learning will spend their time and effort in studying. They feel and act as if they are influential and welcome changes occurring during their lives at university.
Research shows that psychological hardiness assists people in enhancing their health and performance when coping with stressful conditions (Maddi 1999). Highly hardy attitudes also help people to convert stressful events into common problems to be solved (Bartone et al. 2009; Maddi 1999; Sezgin 2009) or opportunities for growth and development (Kobasa and Puccetti 1983), thus improving performance and quality of life (Bartone et al. 2009; Wiebe and McCallum 1986). Similarly, during their university lives, students often experience stressful circumstances. Students with high psychological hardiness in learning will be able to control stress in their learning process. This capability helps them transform the stress caused by learning into more fun or enjoyable university lives, developing and maintaining their motivation to do what they need to do. When students have capabilities to overcome the pressure of learning in class, they will acknowledge the role of their professors and classmates in learning. These relationships are embodied in the following hypotheses.
Psychological hardiness in learning has a positive impact on QCL.
Psychological hardiness in learning has a positive impact on learning motivation.
2.4 Functional value of a business education
Value is the key to human exchanges (e.g., Sandstrom et al. 2008). People exchange something of value in return for something they value more. Several conceptualizations of value are found in the literature, such as functional value, emotional value, and social value (see Ledden et al. 2007 for a review). Students studying in universities exchange money, time, and entertainment for the contemporaneous pleasure of learning, and also for higher expected future earnings and a more satisfying future professional life. This study focuses on the functional value perceived by business students when studying at university. Functional value refers to students’ expectation that the business education at their chosen university will enhance their future employment or career goals and advancement (LeBlanc and Nguyen 1999; Ledden et al. 2007).
Value reinforces human beliefs that guide their behavior in their everyday lives (Kahle 1989). Students who perceive that studying at their university will give them higher value for their work and lives in the future will be more positive in their attitudes and behavior toward university life. These students tend to see the pressure of learning as useful experience for their future lives. Thus, for these students, learning at a university is interesting and worthwhile. In other words, it appears that functional value of business education will strengthen the impacts of both learning motivation and psychological hardiness in learning on quality of college life. These relationships lead us to our fourth and fifth hypotheses.
The impact of learning motivation on QCL is stronger for students who perceive higher functional value of their business education.
The impact of psychological hardiness in learning on QCL is stronger for students who perceive higher functional value of their business education.
3.1 Design and Pilot Study
The research comprised two phases, a pilot study and a main survey, and was undertaken in Ho Chi Minh City, the principal business centre of Vietnam. Although most of the measures of constructs are available in the literature, it is important to ensure they are appropriate for the context of this study (a transition market) by examining how students describe their learning motivation, quality of college life, and psychological hardiness in learning. Thus, we began with a pilot study. The questionnaire was initially prepared in English. It was then translated into Vietnamese by an academic fluent in both languages because English is not well-understood by all students in this market. Back-translation ensured the reliability of the translation.
The pilot study consisted of two steps: qualitative and quantitative. First, we conducted a series of in-depth interviews with six business students at the Faculty of Business Administration, University of Economics, Ho Chi Minh City, purposefully selected on the basis of their academic quality (Coyne 1997). The sole purpose of this phase of the pilot study was to formulate questionnaires in Vietnamese that could support our objective of relating psychological hardiness in learning and learning motivation to students’ perceptions of the quality of college life.
Preliminary validation of the measures incorporated into the questionnaire was accomplished in the quantitative phase of the pilot study, in which we asked a convenience sample of 126 business students also at the Faculty of Business Administration, University of Economics, Ho Chi Minh City to complete the draft questionnaires. This convenience sample consisted of students in upper-level courses; we enlisted them by visiting a selection of classes and inviting all students to participate. Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of reliability and exploratory factor analysis (EFA) were used to arrive at preliminary assessments of the scales, as described below.
Four constructs were examined: quality of college life (QCL), psychological hardiness in learning, learning motivation, and functional value of business education. QCL was measured by three items (from Q1 to Q3; Appendix 1—Table 3), each one of which was intended to reflect student perception of QCL (Sirgy et al. 2007). While QCL could be decomposed into various components like students’ satisfaction with the faculty, facilities, student services, relationships with classmates, and extracurricular activities, we focus on the overall QCL construct. Psychological hardiness in learning was measured by six items (from P1 to P6; Appendix 1—Table 3) and learning motivation was measured by five items (from L1 to L5; Appendix 1—Table 3). These scales were adapted from Cole et al. (2006, 2004a, b). Finally, functional value of business education was measured by four items (from V1 to V4; Appendix 1—Table 3; Ledden et al. 2007). Each item was measured on a seven-point Likert scale, anchored by 1 (strongly disagree) and 7 (strongly agree). The measures were refined via Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of reliability and EFA, using the data collected from 126 business students in the quantitative pilot study. The results indicated that all scales satisfied the requirement for reliability: all Cronbach alphas of the scales were higher than 0.80. Note that one item (P5) measuring psychological hardiness (when necessary I am willing to study extra hard) was deleted due to its low item-total correlation (<0.30). The EFA results (principal components with varimax rotation) also indicate that all the scales satisfied the requirement for factor loadings (>0.50), total variance extracted (>50%) and the number of factors extracted. Accordingly, these measures were used in the main survey.
3.3 Main Survey
The main survey was undertaken with the cooperation of a convenience sample of 1,024 undergraduate students at five selected universities in Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong: the University of Economics, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, Ton Duc Thang University, and Binh Duong University. With permission of the universities, we visited a selection of upper-level classes and invited all of the students to complete the questionnaires. When the questionnaires were collected, we checked them and asked respondents to fill in any missing values. The sample was comprised of 622 (60.8%) female students and 402 (39.3%) male students. There were 605 (59.1%) students studying in public universities and 419 (40.9%) students studying in private universities. Composite reliability (ρc), average variance extracted (ρvc), and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) were used to validate the measurement models and structural equation modelling (SEM) was used to test the conceptual model and hypotheses.
4.1 Measure Validation
As mentioned above, the quality of the measures used in this study was assessed using composite reliability (ρc), average variance extracted (ρvc), and CFA. The screening process showed that the data exhibited slight deviations from normality. Nonetheless, all univariate kurtoses and skewnesses were in the acceptable range of [−1, 1]. Note that all the scales were reflective measures. Therefore, the maximum likelihood estimation method was used to estimate the parameters in the measurement and structural models (Muthen and Kaplan 1985).
The saturated model (final measurement model) produced an acceptable fit to the data: χ2 = 559.23 (p = 0.000); GFI = 0.940; CFI = 0.942; and RMSEA = 0.062. The factor loadings of all items were high and substantial (the lowest loading was 0.65), and all were highly significant (p < 0.001). Appendix 1—Table 3 shows the CFA loadings, means, SD, composite reliability, and average variance extracted of the scale items.
Furthermore, the average variances extracted of other scales were high (ρvc > 0.50), except for the scale measuring psychological hardness in learning (ρvc = 0.47). These findings indicate that the scales used in this study were unidimensional and that convergent validity (within-method) was achieved. The correlations (with standard errors) between constructs were significantly different from unity (Appendix 2—Table 4), which supports cross-construct discriminant validity (Steenkamp and van Trijp 1991). Further, all the scales had high composite reliability (ρc ≥ 0.81). In sum, all the scales measuring the constructs used in this study satisfied the requirement for reliability and validity.
4.2 Structural Models
Unstandardized structural paths
Psychological hardiness in learning → Learning motivation
Psychological hardiness in learning → Quality of college life
Learning motivation → Quality of college life
4.3 Results of Multi-Group Analysis: Testing the Moderating Effects
To test the moderating effects of functional value of business education perceived by students on the impacts of both psychological hardiness in learning and learning motivation on quality of college life, the multi-group analysis in SEM was employed. It is noted that the scale measuring functional value of business education was unidimensional. Therefore, a summated scale was formed for the measure of this construct. Then, the median split was applied to divide the sample into two groups: students with low and high perceptions of functional value of business education. Two stages of analysis were conducted. First, these two samples were used to estimate the paths with no structural paths constrained (i.e., the path between psychological hardiness in learning and quality of college life and the path between learning motivation and quality of college life were set to be free). Next, constraints were imposed for these structural paths for both groups, i.e., they were set to be equal for both groups. No constraints were set for the measurement models (partial invariance).
Multi-group results (unstandardized estimate)
Functional value of business education
Learning motivation → Quality of college life
Psychological hardiness in learning → Quality of college life
The same results were found for the impact of psychological hardiness in learning on quality of college life. The impact of psychological hardiness in learning on quality of college life in the group of students with a higher level of perceived functional value of business education (γunstandardized = .44, p < 0.001) was greater than that of the group of students with a lower level of perceived functional value of business education (γunstandardized = 0.38, p < 0.001). Thus, hypothesis H5 was not rejected. Note that no improper solution was found in the saturated model or in any structural model. Heywood cases were absent; all error-term variances were significant; and all absolute standardized residuals were less than 2.58.
5 Discussion, Implications and Directions for Future Research
This study examines the direct and indirect effects of psychological hardiness in learning on business students’ perceptions of Quality of College Life (QCL), where indirect effects are mediated by learning motivation. It also explores the moderating role of the functional value of business education perceived by students on the impacts of both learning motivation and psychological hardiness in learning on quality of college life. Psychological hardiness in learning is a key predictor of business students’ QCL, and it has a strong postive impact on learning motivation. Learning motivation also plays a role in predicting QCL. Our results suggest certain ways in which universities might be able to enhance QCL among Vietnamese business students. In particular, hardiness assessment and training programs have proved successful in cultivating hardy skills and attitudes (Maddi 2002). Vietnamese universities could organize such hardiness training programs whether as regular credit courses or non-credit courses to equip students with hardy attitudes and skills. These programs could help increase QCL experienced by students and enhance their learning motivation.
The impacts of both learning motivation and psychological hardiness in learning on QCL are stronger for students who perceive higher functional value of business education. Thus, training programs aimed at enhancing students’ perceptions of the functional values of their studies would also be useful for Vietnamese universities. Here, we think especially of career fairs at which students could interact with potential employers. Finally, it would be of substantial interest to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of such programs.
This study has a number of limitations. First, the model was only tested with undergraduate business students in some key universities in Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong. The model should be tested with post-graduate business students as well as business students at universities in other cities and provinces in Vietnam, such as in Can Tho, Da Nang, and Hanoi to enhance the generalizability of the results. Second, the model examined the roles of only two factors, learning motivation and psychological hardiness in learning, on QCL. There may be other factors that contribute to QCL of business students, especially the psychological capabilities of students such as optimism, self-efficacy, and hope that should be considered in future research. Third, the measures of psychological hardiness and QCL used in this study are global measures. For example, the measure of psychological hardiness does not break out the commitment, control, and challenge components. While global scales are easier to administrator and less reactive, they may be less precise than facet—or specific—scales that decompose the global variables (Kumar et al. 1993). Future research should use facet scales to measure the three components of psychological hardiness, and should compare the results with global scales. The same approach should be undertaken with QCL. Finally, future work could be enhanced by reliance on a more sophisticated sampling design to ensure the resulting sample is representative of the population of business students in Vietnam.
This work was supported in part by a grant from the UEH International School of Business (Grant No. UEH.ISB.11.002) to Tho D Nguyen.