P56 – Growth in academic self-concept in first year students in STEM programs: interplay with achievement and gender.

Room A – wednesday 09:00-10:00

One hour paper

C. Van Soom, T. De Laet, G. Langie  & B. De Fraine


We investigated growth in academic self-concept, defined as self-perception of one’s ability in academic domains, during the first year of STEM higher education. At the start of the first year, female students have a lower academic self-concept compared to male students. During the first year, growth rate of academic self-concept is not related to gender, but to academic achievement.


Academic self-concept is defined as the self-perception of one’s ability in academic domains. Since it is associated with higher academic achievement, the relationship between both variables has been extensively studied, mostly in primary and secondary education [1–4]. Little is known about the evolution of academic self-concept during the first semester in higher education. In a longitudinal study of first-year university students in social sciences, no gender difference was observed in academic self-concept at the beginning of higher education, but after the first semester at university, general academic self-concept of female students significantly declined, whereas there was no self-concept change for male students  [5].  In a cross-sectional study of first year university STEM students, math and science self-concept of female students was lower compared to male students [6].  The minority status of female students in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs is known to cause stereotype threat [7] and to be associated with poorer perceived performance, decreased engagement and higher risk of dropout [8].

To better understand the first-year experience of students in STEM programs, we investigated changes in self-concept during the first year, in relation to gender, academic achievement, and gender-balance of the program of study.
The sample consisted of 1139 first-year (undergraduate) Bachelor students in STEM, participating for the first time in higher education. During academic year 2012-2013, students were asked at three different occasions to fill out a questionnaire to measure their academic self-concept [9] and quality of motivation[10] . Furthermore, achievement data were collected at 3 occasions: prior high school achievement (self-reported at start of academic year), early academic achievement (university database results of first (January) exam period ) and late academic achievement (university database results of second (June) exam period). For the linear models, students were classified either as high performing (passed 60% or more of their courses) or low-performing based on the january examn results. Programs of study were designated as “male-dominated” when less than 16% of female students or “gender-balanced” with between 39 % en 69% female students.  Growth in academic self-concept was studied by means of a two-level model, with measurement occasions nested within students [10].  SEM-analyses were performed in M-plus.

Our growth analysis shows that at the start of the year, female students have a significantly lower academic self-concept compared to male students. Both groups show a slight increase in academic self-concept during the first year. When also achievement is taken into account, considerable differences become apparent.  The average academic self-concept of low achievers decreases significantly, whereas the academic self-concept of high achievers increases significantly.  These changes in academic self-concept during the first year are not dependent on gender, but only on achievement.  The patterns are also unrelated to the gender-balance of the program. Male and female high/low achievers show the same average increase/decrease in academic self-concept.

In addition we relate these findings to more recently obtained results of SEM-analyses on this cohort, in which the relationships were studied between initial and subsequent academic self-concept, prior high school achievement and subsequent academic achievement, and initial and subsequent intrinsic motivation of male and female students.

Implications of these and other research results are discussed.

Reference List

     1.    Lent RW, Brown SD, Gore PA (1997) Discriminant and predictive validity of academic self-concept, academic self-efficacy, and mathematics-specific self-efficacy. Journal of Counseling Psychology 44: 307-315.

2.    Marsh HW, Yeung AS (1997) Coursework selection: Relations to academic self-concept and achievement. American Educational Research Journal 34: 691-720.

3.    Muijs RD (1997) Predictors of academic achievement and academic self-concept: a longitudinal perspective. British Journal of Educational Psychology 67: 263-277.

4.    Marsh HW, Hau KT, Kong CK (2002) Multilevel causal ordering of academic self-concept and achievement: Influence of language of instruction (English compared with chinese) for Hong Kong students. American Educational Research Journal 39: 727-763.

5.    Jackson C (2003) Transitions into higher education: gendered implications for academic self-concept. Oxford Review of Education 29: 331-346.

6.    Ackerman PL, Kanfer R, Beier ME (2013) Trait Complex, Cognitive Ability, and Domain Knowledge Predictors of Baccalaureate Success, STEM Persistence, and Gender Differences. Journal of Educational Psychology 105: 911-927.

7.    Delisle MN, Guay F, Senecal C, Larose S (2009) Predicting stereotype endorsement and academic motivation in women in science programs: A longitudinal model. Learning and Individual Differences 19: 468-475.

8.    London B, Rosenthal L, Levy SR, Lobel M (2011) The Influences of Perceived Identity Compatibility and Social Support on Women in Nontraditional Fields During the College Transition. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 33: 304-321.

9.    Van Soom C (2014) Profiling first-year students in STEM programs based on autonomous motivation and academic-self-concept and relationship with academic achievement. PLoS One 9(11): e112489. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0112489.

10.    Vansteenkiste M, Sierens E, Soenens B, Luyckx K, Lens W (2009) Motivational Profiles From a Self-Determination Perspective: The Quality of Motivation Matters. Journal of Educational Psychology 101: 671-688.

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