A mixed method evaluation of the subjective well–being of first–year tertiary students during orientation
De Kock, Johannes Hendrikus
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The aim of orientation programs at tertiary academic institutions is to introduce newcomers to the attitudinal and behavioral standards of their new academic and social situation, and these programs usually have a formal and an informal component. Formal orientation is officially developed and monitored by the university. Informal orientation is associated with socially orientated initiation or hazing activities administered by senior students in the seclusion of hostels and are often not monitored by the university, resulting in human rights violations such as racial discrimination, physical abuse and psychological bullying. Because both components of orientation take place during the same time frame and in the same broader context, orientation programs as a whole have been receiving negative attention and criticism in the media. Research has, however, also uncovered many positive elements in orientation programs - in both the formal and informal components. Literature suggests that universities put in place a high quality formal and informal orientation program to ensure the well–being of first–year students. Well–being is regarded as the subjective appraisals that people make about the quality of their lives based on their experiences, relationships, feelings and overall functioning in life. Two approaches towards subjective well–being are identified: the first is the hedonic approach, focusing on emotional well–being (EWB) and is equated to positive feelings, subjective happiness and satisfaction with life; the second is the eudaimonic approach, focusing on psychological well–being (PWB) and social well–being (SWB) which not only conceptualizes well–being in terms of meaning and purpose, but also as positive functioning in life on personal and social levels. The aim of this study was to determine the shifts in well–being of first–year students during an orientation program (with both the formal and informal components included) at a tertiary institution and to explore the experiences associated with these shifts. A sequential mixed method research design was used where quantitative and qualitative research approaches were combined to provide an in–depth understanding of the phenomenon. A convenience sample of first–year hostel residing students (mean age=19 years) was used for the quantitative study. Students completed the Mental Health Continuum Short Form (MHC–SF) and the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) before (n=102), during (n=371) and after (n=358) the orientation program. Twenty–one demographically representative first–year hostel residing students (mean age=18.5 years) were purposive selected to participate in the qualitative study consisting of a focus group discussion and semi–structured in–depth individual interviews which took place after the programs’ completion. The quantitative results indicated that first–year students’ well–being remained unchanged before, during and after orientation in all facets except in SWB. First–year students’ SWB increased practically significantly over the course of the orientation program. The qualitative findings suggested that first–year students’ well–being fluctuated from high before the orientation program to low during the program’s initial phase to high again after the program’s completion. Experiences associated with SWB were perceived to be the central experience associated with an increase in well–being. Recommendations are made regarding the promotion of the social and personal well–being of first–year students during an orientation program.
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