Educational Administration, Department of


Date of this Version



Coombs, L. J. (2013). Developing purpose in college: A mixed methods study to investigate how first-year and senior students developed purpose at a large research midwestern university. MA thesis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Educational Administration, Under the Supervision of Professor Richard Hoover. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2013

Copyright 2013 Laura J. Coombs


The purpose of this convergent mixed methods study was to investigate how students develop purpose at a large research Midwestern University. More specifically, this study assessed how students developed their sense of purpose in college, according to both first-year students and senior students.
The central research question for this study was: how do students develop purpose in college? More specifically, how do first-year students compare with senior college students when developing purpose in college? The Developing Purpose Inventory (DPI), created by William Barratt, was utilized to determine how students were developing purpose in college, according to Arthur Chickering’s student development theory. Students self-selected to participate in a follow-up research interview, which examined in depth how students perceived their development or purpose evolved throughout their college education. The three sections of developing purpose studied were avocational recreational interests, vocational interests, and style of life.
One hundred and twenty seven students completed online surveys. The author also conducted semi-structured interviews with three first-year participants and four senior participants who volunteered to complete a follow-up interview after the initial survey.
This study showed that students develop purpose between their first-year and senior year of college at a large research Midwestern University. Statistically significant evidence from the DPI suggested that students developed avocational recreational purpose and style of life purpose during college. The DPI also suggested that students develop vocational interests during their academic career. Six qualitative themes also emerged from the qualitative research: he/she believed in me, college as the next step, exploring possibilities, value of experiences and involvement, supporting and helping others, and preparation to do something greater.

Adviser: Richard E. Hoover