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Improving the quality of life for students has become a major concern for educational institutions. Using a sample of 262 university students (mean age 19.25 years) in China, this study investigates the mediating role of self-esteem in the relationships between social support and academic achievement and between social support and emotional exhaustion. Students in our sample completed questionnaires designed to assess their perceived social support, self-esteem, academic achievement, and emotional exhaustion. The results of path analysis suggest that self-esteem fully mediates the relationship between social support and academic achievement and the relationship between social support and emotional exhaustion. This study's implications and limitations are discussed.
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Published as
Jie Li, Xue Han, Wangshuai Wang, Gong Sun & Zhiming Cheng (2018). How social support
influences university students' academic achievement and emotional exhaustion: The mediating role
of self-esteem. Learning and Individual Differences, 61, pp.120-126.
see https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1041608017302133
How social support influences university studentsacademic achievement and
emotional exhaustion: The mediating role of self-esteem
Jie Li, Xue Han, Wangshuai Wang, Gong Sun & Zhiming Cheng
Abstract
Improving the quality of life for students has become a major concern for educational
institutions. Using a sample of 262 university students (mean age 19.25 years) in China,
this study investigates the mediating role of self-esteem in the relationships between social
support and academic achievement and between social support and emotional exhaustion.
Students in our sample completed questionnaires designed to assess their perceived social
support, self-esteem, academic achievement, and emotional exhaustion. The results of path
analysis suggest that self-esteem fully mediates the relationship between social support and
academic achievement and the relationship between social support and emotional exhaustion.
This study’s implications and limitations are discussed.
Keywords: social support; self-esteem; academic achievement; emotional exhaustion;
university students
Jie Li, School of Management, Shanghai University, Shanghai, China; email: mgmtli@i.shu.edu.cn. Xue Han,
School of Management, Shanghai University, Shanghai, China; email: sdhanxue@i.shu.edu.cn (Corresponding
author). Wangshuai Wang, Antai College of Economics and Management, Shanghai Jiao Tong University,
Shanghai, China; email: wwssjtu@sjtu.edu.cn. Gong Sun, Department of Marketing, Central University of
Finance and Economics, Beijing, China; email: sungong1234@163.com. Zhiming Cheng, Department of
Management, Macquarie University, New South Wales, Australia; email: zhiming.cheng@mq.edu.au.
Acknowledgments: We acknowledge the financial support from the Humanity and Social Science Youth
Foundation of Ministry of Education of China (17YJC630076) and the National Natural Science Foundation
of China (71702095). We appreciate the helpful suggestions from Kristopher J. Preacher and Zhonglin Wen
and the referees.
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1. Introduction
People have devoted substantial attention to quality of life in the process of pursuing
well-being. Additionally, enhancing the well-being of citizens is an important governmental
goal. Therefore, quality of lifean individual’s overall evaluation of her/his lifeis a subject
of tremendous interest among researchers, policy makers, and the public (Lenderking, 2005).
Although existing research has focused on different socioeconomic groups, there has been
limited research on quality of life among university students, who are an important group
in most societies (Vaez, Kristenson, & Laflamme, 2004). This is an important research gap
because, in their young adulthood, university students experience critical transitions
characterized by changes, confusion, and exploration, and the choices they make during this
period may have enduring ramifications (Arnett, 2000). Moreover, due to their relatively
limited social experiences, university students generally have lower self-consciousness and
psychological endurance than individuals who are employed, thus they are more vulnerable
to psychological problems (Bask & Salmela-Aro, 2013). Previous studies have found that
university students’ quality of life is a predictor of dropout or withdrawal (Timmons, 1978),
and has a significant effect on their subjective well-being (Sirgy, Grzeskowiak, & Rahtz,
2007), as well as on their physical and mental health (Salmela-Aro, Kiuru, Leskinen, &
Nurmi, 2009). Therefore, university students’ quality of life is of significant concern
(Benjamin & Hollings, 1995). In this article, we investigate university students quality of
life by focusing on academic achievement and emotional exhaustion.
Academic achievement, which is an important aspect of life for university students
(Xiao, Tang, & Shim, 2009) and is typically regarded as the core criterion for determining a
students success at university, has been found to positively predict life satisfaction (Lepp,
Barkley, & Karpinski, 2014). Therefore, we use academic achievement as the first indicator
of university students’ quality of life. In addition, university students often suffer pressures
related to academic requirements, interpersonal relationships, and job searching (Ross,
Niebling, & Heckert,1999), making them prone to emotional exhaustion (Schaufeli,
Martinez, Pinto, Salanova, & Bakker, 2002). Emotional exhaustion, the primary component
of burnout, refers to an individual’s feelings of being emotionally exhausted and depleted
of emotional resources (Parker & Salmela-Aro, 2011; Salmela-Aro et al., 2009) and is
considered as an erosion of life satisfaction (Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012). Therefore, we use
emotional exhaustion as the second indicator to assess university students’ quality of life.
In the present study, we propose that social support is an important factor to promote
university students’ academic achievement and mitigate their emotional exhaustion. Social
support refers to the social and psychological support an individual receives or perceives in
her or his environment (Lin, 1986), such as respect, care, and help. Received social support is
defined as the existence and reception of support, while perceived social support is defined
as the perception and availability of support (Hefner & Eisenberg, 2009; Helgeson, 1993). A
large literature has demonstrated that perceived social support is more predictive and
functional than received social support (Cohen & Wills, 1985; Helgeson, 1993). Therefore,
this study focuses on perceived social support.
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1.1 Social support and academic achievement
The ecological opinion posits that students are significantly influenced by their
surrounding social contexts (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). This opinion offers an approach to
understanding the relationship between social support and students’ learning outcomes
(Dennis, Phinney, & Chuateco, 2005). Social support provides university students with a
sense of security and competence, which, in turn, helps them to address intellectual
challenges more efficiently (Sarason, Sarason, & Pierce, 1990). According to social capital
theory, embedded resources in social networks benefit individuals in achieving various goals
(Brouwer, Jansen, Flache, & Hofman, 2016). Those with stronger social support are better
embedded in a supportive network and are more socially integrated in their university
academic environments, thus they are better positioned to improve their academic
achievements (Rayle & Chung, 2007). Several studies have found that students with higher
perceived social support reported better attendance (Rosenfeld, Richman, & Bowen, 1998)
and university adjustments (Rueger, Malecki, & Demaray, 2008, 2010). A one-year
longitudinal study conducted by DeBerard and colleagues (2004) has shown that social
support is a significant factor to predict university students’ academic achievement. Robbins
and colleagues (2004) have confirmed the positive relationship between social support and
university students’ grade point average (GPA) by meta-analyzing 109 studies. Therefore,
we suggest that social support is positively related to academic achievement.
1.2 Social support and emotional exhaustion
According to the general benefits (GB) model of social support proposed by Rueger
and colleagues (2016), social support can improve individuals’ positive psychological states,
such as positive affect (Cohen & Wills, 1985) and sense of well-being (Diener, Suh, Lucas, &
Smith, 1999). Meanwhile, Rueger and colleagues (2016) have proposed the stress-buffering
(SB) model of social support, which posits that social support acts as a buffer against stress
(Cohen & Wills, 1985; Zimet, Dahlem, Zimet, & Farley, 1988). In addition, a cross-cultural
study conducted by Taylor and colleagues (2007) has reported that both Asians (including
Asian Americans) and European Americans use social support to cope with stress in
culturally appropriate ways. Social support can provide solutions for individuals facing
stressful problems, reduce the perceived importance of problems, or facilitate positive
psychological reactions and behavioral responses (Cohen & Wills, 1985). In other words,
social support is regarded as a protective resource that enables people to cope with stress,
distress, and depression (Chou, 2000; Zimet et al., 1988). Individuals might suffer more
deleterious effects of stress if social support is deficient (Rueger et al., 2016). Furthermore,
social support provides individuals with positive social contacts with others, which
contributes to emotional balance and reduced burnout (Boren, 2013). Thus, students with
supportive resources are less vulnerable to emotional exhaustion than their counterparts
without such resources (Heaphy & Dutton, 2008; Uchida & Yamasaki, 2008). In conclusion,
social support serves as an effective remedy to improve students stress resilience, which
may be particularly helpful in contending with emotional exhaustion (Jacobs & Dodd, 2003).
Therefore, we suggest that social support is negatively related to studentsemotional
exhaustion.
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1.3 Social support, self-esteem, academic achievement, and emotional exhaustion
We propose that social support enhances students self-esteem, which, in turn,
promotes their academic achievement and relieves their emotional exhaustion. Self-esteem is
an overall appraisal of oneself, which reflects the attitudes one holds toward herself or
himself (Leary & MacDonald, 2003). The relationship between social support and
self-esteem has been well documented (Dumont & Provost, 1999; Hoffman, Ushpiz, &
Levy-Shiff, 1988). For example, Harter (1993) argued that social support positively
influences the development of self-esteem especially during adolescence. Moreover, a
cross-cultural research conducted by Goodwin and Plaza (2000), with a sample of 72
British and 68 Spanish individuals, found that social support is positively related to
self-esteem in both individualist and collectivist cultures. According to the GB model, social
support increases individuals’ perception of their own value and self-worth (Cohen & Wills,
1985; Rueger et al., 2016). Individuals with high levels of social support tend to possess
higher self-esteem (Rueger et al., 2010). In contrast, lack of support from social relations
makes individuals feel devalued and rejected (Leary, 1999), leading to negative
self-evaluations and resulting in low self-esteem. Thus, we suggest that social support is
positively related to self-esteem.
High self-esteem reflects individuals positive evaluations of their self-worth and
competence (Matthews, Deary, & Whiteman, 2003) and is beneficial for personal
development. In a type of self-fulfilling prophecy, students will study harder if they believe
they can achieve (Won g , Wiest, & Cusick, 2002). In other words, students’ self-esteem can
act as a motivator to achieve their academic goals (Fang, 2016). Moreover, students with
higher levels of self-esteem might have higher aspirations and goals. They may have more
confidence in tackling difficulties and be less likely to surrender to feelings of self-doubt
(Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, & Vohs, 2003). Accordingly, they are more likely to get
good grades (Bankston & Zhou, 2002; Schmidt & Padilla, 2003). Hansford and Hattie (1982)
conducted a meta-analysis of 128 studies consisting of more than 200,000 participants and
reported that self-esteem accounts for 4%~7% of the variance in academic achievement.
According to expectancy-value theory, self-evaluation of competence and capacity
significantly predict students’ education-related attainments and outcomes (Fang, 2016).
Social support can promote students’ appraisals of self-worth and appreciation of their own
capacity (Cohen & Wills, 1985), which in turn helps them perform better in academic
contexts (Fang, 2016; Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, & Schimel, 2004).
Therefore, we expect that social support improves students’ academic achievement by
enhancing their self-esteem.
Self-esteem not only facilitates studentsacademic performance but also influences their
emotional states (Baumeister et al., 2003). Several studies have revealed that self-esteem is
negatively related to stress, loneliness, and depression (Dumont & Provost, 1999; Leary,
1999). Students with high self-esteem are less affected by stressors because they are
confident in their ability to control their environment and to overcome challenges (Dumont
& Provost, 1999). In contrast, those with low self-esteem suffer more stresses and
experience poorer mental and physical health (Leary, 1999). In addition, some studies have
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also shown that self-esteem is negatively related to all three dimensions of burnout (Janssen,
Schaufeli, & Houkes, 1999), because it keeps people away from high-risk circumstances that
accompany the symptoms of burnout (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). Further, according to
the GB model, social support promotes individuals’ perception of their own value and
self-worth (Cohen & Wills, 1985; Rueger et al., 2016), which, in turn, helps to ameliorate
their emotional exhaustion (Luo, Wang, Zhang, Chen, & Quan, 2016). In contrast, lack of
social support may lead to low self-esteem (Leary, 1999), which may make people doubt their
capabilities, be afraid of failure, and be prone to encounter setbacks, leading them to
eventually develop emotional exhaustion (Orth, Robins, Trzesniewski, Maes, & Schmitt,
2009). Therefore, we expect that social support mitigates students’ emotional exhaustion by
enhancing their self-esteem.
1.4 Hypotheses
The aim of this study is to examine the underlying mechanism through which social
support influences students’ academic achievement and emotional exhaustion. Based on the
above review of existing literature, we propose that (1) social support is positively related to
self-esteem; (2) self-esteem is positively related to academic achievement; (3) self-esteem is
negatively related to emotional exhaustion; and (4) self-esteem mediates the relationships
between both (a) social support and academic achievement and (b) social support and
emotional exhaustion.
2 Method
2.1 Participants and procedures
Participants were undergraduates from a national university in East China. We
collected data from the school of management for three reasons. First, collecting data from
multiple schools may rule in exogenous variables due to differences across the schools.
Second, the school of management, which has approximately 2,000 undergraduate students,
is the biggest school in the university. Students in the school of management are from 32
provinces of China. Therefore, participants drawn from this sample pool have significant
demographic diversity. The third reason is convenience as the authors are from the school
of management. Before this study, we obtained ethical approval from the school. All
procedures were in accordance with the 1964 declaration of Helsinki and its later
amendments or comparable ethical standards. Our survey was conducted in June 2016. We
collected data using a snowball sampling approach through social network sites. We posted
our questionnaires via Sojump (http://www.sojump.com), which is widely used in behavioral
and psychological studies (e.g., Peng & Xie, 2016). Five research assistants initiated
sampling through their personal contacts, who were asked to distribute the survey link to
encourage further participation from the same school. All the participants were promised
small monetary incentives for their completion of the survey. We attached a cover letter to
ensure that their participation was anonymous and that it would only be used for research
purposes. This sampling strategy has been demonstrated to be reliable and effective and has
been widely applied in data collection (Madrid & Patterson, 2016; Meyerson & Tryon,
2003).
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Participants voluntarily answered the questionnaires, which measured their social
support, self-esteem, academic achievement, and emotional exhaustion. The questionnaires
took approximately 10 minutes to complete. We excluded 32 participants who were from
other schools within the same university or from other universities. Moreover, we excluded
one participant who indicated that she was not a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior.
The above exclusions resulted in a sample size of 262. The respondents included 108 males
and 154 females. They ranged from 17 to 23 years of age, with an average age of 19.25
years (SD = 1.07). One hundred and sixty-five participants were freshmen, eighty were
sophomores, sixteen were juniors, and only one participant was a senior.
2.2 Measures
Because all the scales used in this study were originally developed in English, we
translated all of them into Chinese following back-translation procedures (Brislin, Lonner,
& Thorndike, 1973). According to the guidelines of Beaton and colleagues (2002), we
performed an Expert Committee procedure to ensure accuracy and clarity. After reviewing
the translations, the Committee, consisting of a methodologist, a psychology professional,
and a language professional, did not find any significant discrepancies between the Chinese
and the original English versions of the scales.
2.2.1 Social support
We administered the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS;
Zimet et al., 1988), which comprises 12 items, to measure participants’ social support across
three dimensions: family, friends, and significant others. Sample items include I get the
emotional help and support I need from my family, “My friends really try to help me, and
I have a special person who is a real source of comfort to me”. All items were rated on a
7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). This scale has
good reliability and validity in the Chinese context (Chou, 2000; Kong, Zhao, & Yo u , 2012).
In this study, we averaged all 12 items to form a single-scale score of social support. The
Cronbach’s alpha was .93.
2.2.2 Self-esteem
Self-esteem was measured using the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (RSES; Rosenberg,
1965), which consists of 10 statements designed to assess ones global self-esteem. Sample
items include, “On the whole, I am satisfied with myself and “I am able to do things as well
as most other people”. Participants were asked to rate these items on a 7-point Likert scale,
with 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree. This scale has good reliability and validity
in the Chinese context (Fang, 2016). We computed the mean value of responses on all 10
items to obtain the self-esteem score. The Cronbach’s alpha was .85.
2.2.3 Academic achievement
We asked the university students to report their GPAs that showed in the university
system. The GPA, which is computed based on all previous grades of all previous classes at
the university, is rated ranging from 0 to 4. Prior research has shown that students
studentsself-reported GPA s are highly correlated with the official records of their GPAs (r
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= .84 and .92; Gray & Watson, 2002), thus accurately reflecting their academic achievement
(Lee, Jones, & Day, 2017). In the present study, participants GPAs ranged from 1.1 to 4.0.
Higher GPA indicates better academic achievement.
2.2.4 Emotional exhaustion
We measured participantsemotional exhaustion using the 5-item exhaustion subscale
from The Maslach Burnout Inventory—Student Survey (MBI-SS, Schaufeli et al., 2002).
Participants were asked to rate a sample question, such as “I feel emotionally drained by my
studies,” on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). This
scale has good reliability and validity in the Chinese context (Hu & Schaufeli, 2009). We
computed the mean value of their responses on the 5 items to form emotional exhaustion
score. The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient was .88.
2.2.5 Control variables
To minimize the effects of exogenous variables, we included several control variables
in our analyses. These controls consisted of participants demographic information,
including gender, age, and grade.
2.3 Data analytic plan
Sojump generally requires respondents to answer all the questions on each page. If
they do not do so, they will not be allowed to proceed to the next page. As a result, we do
not need to handle missing data in the present study (Peng & Xie, 2016). In addition, we
examined the normality and outliers for the data, and no concerning outliers were present.
To examine our hypotheses, we first calculated descriptive statistics for all measures.
Next, we examined correlations among all variables. Then, we performed path analysis
using R to examine the hypothesized relationships among our variables. Several model fit
indices were offered to evaluate the appropriateness of our hypothesized model, such as
chi-square (χ2) with its degree of freedom (df), Comparative Fit Index (CFI), Normed Fit
Index (NFI), and Standardized Root Mean Square Residual (SRMR). The goodness-of-fit of
the estimated models are evaluated based on the following criteria: chi-square to degrees of
freedom ratio (χ2/df) lower than 5, Comparative Fit Index (CFI) higher than .90, Normed
Fit Index (NFI) higher than .90, and Standardized Root Mean Square Residual (SRMR)
lower than .08 (Browne & Cudeck, 1993; Kline, 2011). Moreover, we interpreted the
magnitudes of the standardized path coefficients according to the prior literature (Bond &
Bunce, 2003; Cohen, 1988). Specifically, coefficients of .10, .30, and .50 mean small, medium,
and large effects, respectively.
3 Results
3.1 Descriptive statistics and correlations
Table 1 presents the descriptive statistics and correlations among social support,
self-esteem, academic achievement, and emotional exhaustion. Social support was positively
related to self-esteem (r = .47, p < .01) and academic achievement (r = .13, p < .05), and was
negatively related to emotional exhaustion (r = .22, p < .01). Additionally, the correlation
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between self-esteem and academic achievement was positive (r = .17, p < .01), whereas the
correlation between self-esteem and emotional exhaustion was negative (r = .34, p < .01).
Furthermore, students’ emotional exhaustion was negatively related to their academic
achievement (r = .33, p < .01). These relationships have offered the statistic foundation to
examine our hypothesized mediating model.
[Table 1 here]
3.2 Path analysis
Path analysis was performed using the lavaanpackage in R (Rosseel, 2012) to
examine the hypothesized relationships among social support, self-esteem, academic
achievement, and emotional exhaustion. According to the principles illustrated in the
section of 2.3 Data analytic plan, the hypothesized model showed good fit to the data (χ2 =
13.03, df = 5, CFI = .95, NFI = .92, SRMR = .05). Figure 1 delineates the path coefficients
of the proposed model. Specifically, the path from social support to self-esteem was
significant (
β
= .47, p < .01), so Hypothesis 1 was supported. The paths from self-esteem to
both academic achievement (
β
= .18, p < .01) and emotional exhaustion (
β
= .31, p < .01)
were significant, supporting Hypotheses 2 and 3. Thus, the mediating effects of self-esteem
presented in Hypothesis 4 were validated. In addition, according to the interpretation of
standardized path coefficient (Bond & Bunce, 2003; Cohen, 1988), the coefficients from social
support to self-esteem and from self-esteem to emotional exhaustion were medium, and the
coefficient from self-esteem to academic achievement was small. As for control variables, our
results showed that the paths from gender to academic achievement (
β
= .19, p < .01) and
from grade to emotional exhaustion (
β
= .23, p < .01) were significant. The paths from age
to academic achievement (
β
= .02, n.s.), from grade to academic achievement (
β
= .01, n.s.),
from gender to emotional exhaustion (
β
= .10, n.s.), and from age to emotional exhaustion
(
β
= .06, n.s.) were non-significant.
[Figure 1 here]
To further examine Hypothesis 4, the mediating effects of self-esteem in the
hypothesized model were tested for significance using the boot-strapping approach (1,000
replications). The boot-strapping procedure enhances the statistical power of mediation
analysis, especially for a small or moderate sample size (Preacher & Hayes, 2008). As shown
in Table 2, the direct effects of social support on self-esteem and of self-esteem on both
academic achievement and emotional exhaustion were all significant. Moreover, the
indirect effects of social support on academic achievement and emotional exhaustion via
self-esteem were significant. Therefore, all the hypotheses were supported.
[Table 2 here]
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4. Discussion
The current study sheds light on the relationship between social support and
university students’ quality of life. Specifically, we investigated the mediating role of
self-esteem in the relationship between social support and academic achievement as well as
between social support and emotional exhaustion. We employed a questionnaire survey
using a sample of 262 university students in China to examine our hypotheses. As we
predicted, correlation analyses showed that students with high perceived social support tend
to have higher self-esteem, which is consistent with prior literature that has asserted the
positive relationship between social support and self-esteem (Goodwin & Plaza, 2000;
Hoffman et al., 1988). In conjunction with previous studies, our results also revealed that
self-esteem was positively related to academic achievement (Baumeister et al., 2003;
Hansford & Hattie, 1982; Pyszczynski et al., 2004) and negatively related to emotional
exhaustion (Luo et al., 2016; Orth et al., 2009). In addition, we found that university
students’ emotional exhaustion was negatively related to their academic achievement
(McCarthy, Pretty, & Catano, 1990). Further, path analysis demonstrated that self-esteem
fully mediated the correlations between both (a) social support and academic achievement
and (b) social support and emotional exhaustion. Our findings thus indicated that university
students with high social support are inclined to possess high levels of self-esteem (Dumont
& Provost, 1999), which in turn facilitates their academic achievement (Schmidt & Padilla,
2003; Wong et al., 2002) and shields them from emotional exhaustion (Janssen et al., 1999;
Luo et al., 2016; Orth et al., 2009). These findings correspond to the GB model and the SB
model proposed by Rueger and colleagues (2016). Moreover, we have found that girls score
higher than boys, which is consistent with previous studies (e.g., Mackinnon, 2012). Another
interesting finding is that students in senior years are more likely to suffer from emotional
exhaustion. It may because they are under more pressure, such as pressure of job searching.
4.1 Theoretical and practical implications
This study contributes to the literature in the following ways. First, our findings
extend the understanding of social support within the university context. Although prior
studies have investigated the role that social support plays in people’s lives (Diener et al.,
1999; Heintzelman & Bacon, 2015), the influence of social support on university students
lives is relatively underexplored. Our findings indicate that social support contributes to
university students’ quality of life, both physically and mentally. Furthermore, the current
research elaborated the mechanism underlying the relationships between social support and
university students academic achievement as well as their emotional exhaustion. In
particular, this study enriches the literature by demonstrating the mediating role of
self-esteem. Thus, our study provides a more fine-grained framework to illustrate how
social support affects university students’ quality of life.
The current research offers practical implications as well. It can provide guidance on
how to improve university students’ quality of life by promoting their academic
achievement and alleviating their emotional exhaustion. Our findings suggest that social
support can help to enhance students’ self-esteem and thus help them obtain better academic
achievement and protect them from emotional exhaustion, which indicates that fostering
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supportive environments should be useful in promoting university students’ quality of life.
Above all, it is vital to be aware of the critical role that social support plays in university
students’ lives, both for the students themselves and for the people around them. Then,
providing social support for university students is also important, especially for students
who have low grades or are struggling with emotional exhaustion. For example, providing
empathy, company, and comfort for them when they are in bad mood; providing guidance,
advice, and assistance for them when they encounter setbacks; providing love, trust and
encouragement for them when they doubt their capability and competence. Moreover, social
activities and group work can help to foster a supportive environment for university
students (Baldwin, Bedell, & Johnson, 1997). As for university students themselves, they
should be brave enough to actively seek social support from others, and they should
understand how to utilize such support effectively. In addition, for students with low
self-esteem, their self-evaluation of their worth and competence could be promoted by
increasing their social support (Harter, 1993), which in turn helps to improve their academic
achievement (Bankston & Zhou, 2002) and mitigate their emotional exhaustion (Janssen et
al., 1999; Orth et al., 2009), thus contributing to promoting their quality of life (Hakanen &
Schaufeli, 2012; Lepp et al., 2014).
4.2 Limitations and directions for future research
The current study has several limitations that warrant further investigation. First, this
study adopted a cross-sectional design, which leads to limited causal relationships among
our variables. Therefore, a longitudinal or experimental design should be adopted in the
future to facilitate robust analysis of causal relationships among social support, university
students academic achievement, and emotional exhaustion. Second, the data collection in
the current study was performed only through self-reported measures, which might pose a
threat to our internal validity because self-report biases (e.g., social desirability) are
unavoidable. Thus, future research should use multiple and different methods of assessment
(e.g., parents’ or peers’ reports) to reduce the effects of subjectivity. Third, we adopted the
convenience sampling strategy to collect data. The sample of the current study was only
drawn from one Chinese university, limiting the generalizability of the findings. It would be
helpful for future studies to replicate this research in other cultures to improve the
generalizability of the current results. Finally, the MSPSS, used in the current study, is
actually a general measurement. Perhaps it is reasonable to use a specific measurement
given the school context. However, turning to the work by Bahar (2010), MSPSS has also
been used to measure perceived social support in an academic setting. Moreover, in Robbins
et al.’s (2004) meta-analysis, they reviewed both general and academic social support, but
they did not differentiate their effects on college outcomes, indicating that general and
academic social support play similar roles in predicting college outcomes. In the present
study, we followed Bahar (2010) and used a general measurement. We aim to investigate
the factors that influence academic achievement and emotional exhaustion. Theoretically
speaking, both academic and other forms of social support can contribute to both outcomes.
For instance, when a student does not do well on an exam, encouraging words from parents
can restore confidence and be as helpful as direct academic support. Consequently, simply
ruling in perceived academic social support might fail to capture the complete picture of
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how social support affects academic achievement and emotional exhaustion.
Despite these limitations, the current study makes several significant contributions. It
investigates how perceived social support correlates with university studentsquality of life
by considering academic achievement and emotional exhaustion as crucial indicators, and it
provides an empirical framework for further investigation by examining the mediating effect
of self-esteem on the relationship between social support and university studentsacademic
achievement and emotional exhaustion. These findings have thus extended the
understanding of social support in university settings and provided valuable
recommendations to improve university students’ quality of life.
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18
Table 1
Descriptive statistics and correlations of all study variables
Mean
SD
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1. Social support 5.29 1.09 --
2. Self-esteem 5.03 .85 .47** --
3. Academic achievement 3.24 .54 .13* .17** --
4. Emotional exhaustion 3.84 1.42
.22**
.34**
.33** --
5. Gender .59 .49 .16**
.05 .19**
.08 --
6. Age 19.25 1.04
.09
.15*
.05 .14*
.06 --
7. Grade 1.44 .63
.19**
.22**
.05 .25** .01 .63** --
Notes. N = 262.
Gender: 0 = male, 1 = female.
Grade: 1 = freshman, 2 = sophomore, 3 = junior, 4 = senior.
* p < .05. ** p < .01.
19
Table 2
The direct and indirect effects of social support on academic achievement and emotional exhaustion and 95% confidence intervals
Estimated effect (SE)
95% CI
a
Direct effects
Social support
Self-esteem .47** (.05) [.28, .44]
Self-esteem
Academic achievement .18** (.06) [.04, .19]
Self-esteem
Emotional exhaustion
.31** (.06) [
.72,
.33]
Gender
Academic achievement .19** (.06) [.08, .34]
Gender
Emotional exhaustion
.10 (.06) [
.61, .04]
Age
Academic achievement
.02 (.08) [
.09, .07]
Age
Emotional exhaustion
.06 (.07) [
.28, .11]
Grade
Academic achievement .01 (.08) [
.13, .14]
Grade
Emotional exhaustion .23** (.07) [.18, .84]
Indirect effects
Social support
Self-esteem
Academic achievement .08** (.03) [.01, .07]
Social support
Self-esteem
Emotional exhaustion
.14** (.03) [
.27,
.11]
Notes. N = 262.
a CI = confidence interval (1000 bootstrap samples).
** p < .01.
20
Figure 1 Path coefficients of the hypothesized model.
Notes: N = 262.
Standardized path coefficients are reported here.
** p < .01.
Gender Age Grade
.47**
.18**
Academic Achievement
.31**
Emotional Exhaustion
Self-Esteem
Social Support
.19**
.02
.01
.10
.06
.23**
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University programmes increasingly implement small-group teaching, with the assumption that students' social capital fosters academic achievement. However, few studies address the impact of social capital on the study success of first-year students. The current study addresses this research gap, examining the extent to which social capital relates to study success for first-year university students and whether this effect differs for high-, average-, and low-achieving high school students. Survey data collected from 407 first-year university students’ measure social capital in terms of family, faculty, and peers. Path analysis reveals that in contrast to family capital, peer capital (help seeking, collaboration, and fellow students' support) and faculty capital (mentor support) contribute positively to study success, indirectly through friendship or self-efficacy. For high achievers, compared with low achievers, friendship has a positive effect on study success during the first year. Small-group teaching seems beneficial for study success if it enhances students' social capital.