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Understanding and Evaluating how Faculty Support Matters

The positive relationship between faculty support and academic outcomes for students has been established in the literature. Although somewhat dated, Lamport’s (1993) extensive literature review highlights the multi-dimensional importance of student-faculty interactions. Faculty-student interactions are significantly associated with satisfaction in college. They also predict increases in cognitive ability, personal identity, and values, and support integration into the institution, thereby reducing the risk of dropping out of school. Moreover, it has been shown that it is not the quantity of student-faculty interactions but the quality of the relationships that makes a difference, so much so that a strong relationship with a faculty member can override the effects of student culture (Lamport, 1993).

More recent research studies reinforce the importance of the student-faculty relationship. For example, in a study of over 4,500 students at various doctoral and master’s level institutions, Lundberg and Schreiner (2004) found that the quality of faculty-student relationships significantly predicted learning for all ethnic groups. In a much broader study of over 43,000 students from 119 majors across nine campuses, Kim and Sax (2011) report that students’ contact with faculty and undergraduate research engagement were significantly related to their cognitive development. In a smaller study of approximately 200 students at a single institution, Halawah (2006) provides evidence that both faculty concern and informal faculty relations were significantly correlated to intellectual development. Although these results were significant across all majors, a positive departmental climate of faculty support, as well as clear, organized department policies strengthened the relationship between faculty interactions and cognitive development. In particularly challenging courses like organic chemistry, student-faculty relationships were also significantly related to grades as well as course confidence (Micari & Pazos, 2012). Highlighting the importance of faculty involvement, Lundberg and Schreiner (2004) found that interactions and relationships with faculty were stronger predictors of student learning than race and ethnicity.

Undoubtedly, faculty support is important, both inside and outside the classroom. Our research uses two measures of faculty support, one representing student-faculty interactions in the context of a particular course (formal faculty support) and another representing interactions outside the course context.

Formal Faculty Support (reliability 0.89)
  • The instructor in this class is willing to spend time outside of class to discuss issues that are of interest and importance to me.
  • The instructor in this class is interested in helping me learn.
  • The instructor in this class cares about how much I learn.
  • The instructor in this class treats me with respect.

Informal Faculty Support (reliability 0.88)
  • Since coming to this university I have developed a supportive relationship with at least one faculty member.
  • My non-classroom interactions with instructors have had a positive influence on my personal growth, values, and attitudes.
  • My non-classroom interactions with faculty have had a positive influence on my career goals and aspirations.
  • My non-classroom interactions with faculty have had a positive influence on my intellectual growth and interest in ideas.

Works Cited:

Halawah, I. (2006). The impact of student-faculty informal interpersonal relationships on intellectual and personal development. College Student Journal, 40(3), 670-678.

Kim, Y., & Sax, L. (2011). Are the effects of student-faculty interaction dependent on academic major? An examination using multilevel modeling. Research in Higher Education, 52(6), 589-615.

Lamport, M. A. (1993). Student-faculty informal interaction and the effect on college student outcomes: A review of. Adolescence, 28(112), 971.

Lundberg, C. A., & Schreiner, L. A. (2004). Quality and frequency of faculty-student interaction as predictors of learning: An analysis by student race/ethnicity. Journal of College Student Development, 45(5), 549-565.

Micari, M., & Pazos, P. (2012). Connecting to the professor: Impact of the student–faculty relationship in a highly challenging course. College Teaching, 60(2), 41-47.