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Allison E. Tifft, Texas State University

Allison Tifft.jpgAccording to D.H. Schunk (2012), “Motivation influences learning and performance outcomes, just as what a person does and learns influences motivation” (p. 412). For some probation students, lack of motivation is a primary factor in their poor academic performance.  In turn, their poor academic performance has further decreased their motivation, launching a negative reinforcing cycle.  What can academic advisors do to help?

There are several theories that address motivation and how to increase it.  One of those theories is Vroom’s expectancy theory.  Developed in 1964 to address motivating employees in the workplace, it is also applicable to increasing motivation in college students.

Vroom’s theory states that motivation is a combination of expectancy, instrumentality, and valence (1964).  Therefore, an increase in any of those three factors increases motivation.  By learning about these three factors and identifying practical ways to increase them in college students, academic advisors can become better equipped to increase motivation in probation students.

Vroom’s Factors of Motivation

Expectancy is defined as a person’s estimate that effort will impact performance (Vroom, 1964). An individual has high expectancy if she believes that trying harder will produce a better result.  In contrast, someone with low expectancy does not think performance is dependent upon effort.  A college student with low expectancy doesn’t think studying more will help him earn a higher grade on his test.

This concept is linked with Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy as well as Rotter’s locus of control.  Psychologist Bandura defines self-efficacy as an individual’s self-assessment of her ability to successfully complete a certain task (1986).  Students with low self-efficacy are likely to have low expectancy. Rotter’s locus of control focuses on the extent to which an individual believes she has control over events that affect her (1954).  A student with a high internal locus of control believes that circumstances are derived from his own actions, while a student with a high external locus of control believes that his situation is a result of outside factors and influences rather than his own.  Those with a high external locus of control are likely to have low expectancy.

Vroom defines instrumentality as a person’s estimate of the strength of the connection between a certain performance and a specific future outcome (1964).  Consider the statement, “Rachel was instrumental in acquiring a grant for this project.”  If Rachel is instrumental, she is integral to accomplishing a certain goal.  A student may be questioning the instrumentality of making a certain grade in a class in regard to a larger goal such as graduating or getting accepted into a certain academic program. 

A student may be low in instrumentality if he is unaware of the connection between earning certain grades and future outcomes about which he cares strongly.  For example, a student may have low instrumentality if she does not realize the impact that academic probation may have on her graduation date, financial aid status, or participation in student organizations. 

The third and final component, valence, is explained as the strength of a person’s desire for that specific future outcome (Vroom, 1964).  If a student is indifferent regarding a certain consequence, then motivation is low.  However, if a student cares deeply about accomplishing or avoiding a specific outcome, motivation will be higher.

Increasing Vroom’s Factors in Probation Students

Understanding these components of motivation is just the first step.  It is also important to know what academic advisors can do to increase each factor of motivation.

A student lacking expectancy is lacking confidence in his ability to perform better in the future.  One way an academic advisor can help increase a student’s self-confidence is by discussing past successes.  In most cases a probation student has succeeded in at least one class.  If not, then the fact that the student performed well enough in high school to be admitted to college is an achievement to highlight.  Success isn’t limited to the classroom, so discussing areas outside of school in which a student excels can also be helpful.  This helps re-establish self-confidence and increases a student’s belief that she can succeed academically.

Some students will not be motivated by discussing past successes and will still feel incompetent in addressing their current challenges.  In this instance, referring the student to relevant campus resources can be incredibly beneficial.  Pointing to relevant resources introduces “game changers” to the student’s situation.  A student who failed all his tests despite hours of studying may be more motivated when he learns that testing accommodations are available for him, or that there is an office that can help him develop more efficient study habits.

Academic advisors are especially equipped to increase instrumentality in probation students.  Instrumentality is all about awareness of consequences due to academic performance – a topic on which academic advisors are well versed.  Students, however, can be much less knowledgeable.  Though it seems obvious, reminding a student that failing classes will delay graduation can be motivating if the student does not particularly enjoy school and is eagerly awaiting “the real world.”  Informing a sorority sister that she cannot participate in Greek life if she continues to be on probation may be the impetus needed for her to become motivated.  The information given to the student must be tailored to the outcome he cares most about, which is how valence is incorporated.

Increasing valence is the most difficult.  In order to increase valence, an academic advisor must quickly learn what matters to the student.  For some students, graduating on time is the highest priority.  For others, it is getting accepted to a specific academic program. Sometimes, it isn’t about what a student wants to accomplish, but what she wants to prevent.  The realization that too many semesters of academic probation means loss of financial aid is enough information to motivate some students.  For others, avoiding suspension is a sufficient motivator.  However, there are students who seem to find nothing important.  At this point, an academic advisor must try to make something matter. 

Not every student on academic probation lacks motivation.  Of those who do, there are endless possibilities as to why they are not motivated. Vroom’s theory is a structured approach to guide academic advisors in identifying and addressing these hindrances to motivation. It is by using this information and tailoring each appointment to each individual student that academic advisors can get the answers they need to in turn help probation students increase their motivation and succeed academically. 

Allison E. Tifft
Academic Advisor II
University College Advising Center
Texas State University
[email protected]


Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Rotter, J.B. (1954). Social learning and clinical psychology. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories: An educational perspective. Boston: Pearson.

Vroom, V. H. (1964). Work and motivation. New York: Wiley.

Posted in: 2014 June 37:2


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