The four pillars of tertiary student engagement and success: a holistic measurement approach

Jana Lay-Hwa Bowden*, Leonie Tickle, Kay Naumann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Citations (Scopus)
460 Downloads (Pure)


Creating the conditions that foster student engagement, success and retention remains a perennial issue within the higher education sector. Traditionally satisfaction has been prioritised in assessing student success. A more expansive, holistic and ontological perspective of the student experience that takes into account who and what students are becoming is required. This study develops a holistic approach to measuring student engagement. It models and measures two antecedents to engagement, namely involvement and expectations, four dimensions of engagement, namely affective, social, cognitive and behavioural engagement, and their relative and differential impact upon five specific student and institutional success outcomes namely, institutional reputation, student wellbeing, transformative learning, self-efficacy and self-esteem. A survey with a sample of 952 tertiary students enrolled at a major Australian tertiary institution was employed. A structural model was then specified to assess the structural relationships between the constructs. The results show that student expectations and involvement have an important seeding role in student engagement. Affective engagement was the most important determinant of institutional reputation, wellbeing, and transformative learning. Behavioural engagement determined self-efficacy and self-esteem. Cognitive and social engagement were necessary but not sufficient conditions for student success.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1207-1224
Number of pages18
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Issue number6
Early online date2 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • experience
  • measurement
  • retention
  • Student engagement
  • success


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