This research paper explores the role of non-cognitive and affective (NCA) factors in influencing student achievement and thriving. The research team has developed and deployed a survey with evidence of validity and reliability to measure 28 NCA factors from n=2339 undergraduates at 17 U.S. institutions nationally. The factors examined include personality, grit, meaning and purpose, engineering identity, mindset, motivation, test anxiety, test and study environment, perceptions of faculty caring, self-control, stress, gratitude, mindfulness, and sense of belonging. While there are a myriad of ways to characterize each student’s NCA profile, a recently completed cluster analysis using Gaussian Mixture Modeling has identified five distinct clusters of students using these NCA factors, which accounted for 50.8% of participants. In summary, the five clusters can be described as (i) the normative cluster, (ii) high positive NCA factors but experiencing stress, (iii) future-oriented but disconnected from engineering, (iv) disengaged from engineering, faculty and peers, and (v) low stress and supported.
A preliminary analysis indicated that membership within any of the five clusters was only weakly, if at all, associated with academic performance, as measured by self-reported, overall grade-point-average (GPA). In this study we explore this association in more detailed and nuanced ways to assess whether (a) cluster membership is truly unassociated with academic performance; i.e., students can achieve academically while having various NCA cluster profiles, or (b) one or more clusters is associated with differential academic performance. If the finding is the latter, the results would naturally suggest the need for interventions to support those students whose profiles may predict poor academic outcomes. Finally, we acknowledge that achievement or thriving by undergraduate engineering students cannot be simply measured by the GPA when, obviously, many other factors are at play. This study is necessary, however, since academic performance is currently the predominant measure of progress and achievement in higher education.
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