Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Human Development and Family Studies

Committee Chair(s)

Travis E. Dorsch


Travis E. Dorsch


Ryan B. Seedall


Kay Bradford


Aryn M. Dotterer


Mitchell Colver


Nearly 20 million students were expected to be enrolled for college or university studies during the 2020-2021 academic year. These institutions often advertise to prospective students that, in addition to advancing their education, they will discover their purpose. Given previous work and current interest in sense of purpose, additional attention on sense of purpose in the university setting is worthwhile. In addition, as many university stakeholders are concerned about an ongoing mental health crisis, a further examination into a developmental construct (i.e. sense of purpose) thought to provide a “sheltering fortress in a world of constant threat” seems especially relevant. In the present two-study dissertation, Study 1, a quantitative study, was designed to examine sense of purpose as a potential buffer between university-related stress and psychological distress. Results from this study suggest sense of purpose moderates the relationship between stress and burnout for sophomores but not other years in school. Study 2, a qualitative study, was designed to provide an in-depth exploration into the perceptions of graduating seniors on the development of their sense of purpose during the university experience. Results from this study highlight that participants’ perceptions that the university played a key role in exposing them to a broader world, helping further establish identity and values, while providing structure and support. Independently, the studies possess the potential to offer unique contributions to current understanding of sense of purpose and inform meaningful research directions in the future. Considered together, the results have the potential to offer important practical considerations for college and university staff and administrators involved with student well-being and retention.