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George D. Kuh and Shouping Hu - The Effects of Student-Faculty Interaction In the 1990s - The Review of Higher Education 24:3 The Review of Higher Education 24.3 (2001) 309-332

Focus on Faculty: Challenges and Changing Roles

The Effects of Student-Faculty Interaction in the 1990s

George D. Kuh and Shouping Hu

Tables

Educators at all levels believe that frequent, meaningful interactions between students and their teachers are important to learning and personal development. The higher education literature almost unequivocally extols the virtues of student-faculty contact (e.g., Astin, 1977, 1985, 1993; Bean, 1985; Bean & Kuh, 1984; Feldman & Newcomb, 1969; Kuh, Schuh, Whitt & Associates, 1991; Lamport, 1993; Pascarella, 1985; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1976, 1979, 1981; Tinto, 1993; Wilson et al., 1975).

In general, the more contact between students and faculty both inside and outside the classroom, the greater the student development and satisfaction (Astin, 1993). Some colleges and universities offer incentives to promote this interaction, such as making available small amounts of money to underwrite expenses if faculty members will entertain students in their [End Page 309] homes or attend cultural events on campus with groups of students. Social contacts alone are not likely to have the desired influence however. That is, it is both the frequency and nature of student-faculty interaction combined that have the greatest impact, such as when interactions have an intellectual or substantive focus (e.g., career plans) as contrasted with an exclusively social exchange (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). This finding has generated interest in creating living-learning centers on campus and developing different forms of learning communities where faculty members are more likely to interact with their students about topics presented in their courses. As a result, the amount of student-faculty contact will presumably increase, positively affecting both learning outcomes and student satisfaction. That is, a presumed salutary effect of interactions between students and faculty members is that students will become more comfortable in the academic environment and will more willingly adopt institutional norms and values. This outcome increases their sense of belonging and "fit" with the institution, factors that are positively related to persistence and graduation (Tinto, 1993).

However, recent studies (Kuh, Hu, & Vesper, 2000; Olsen, Kuh, Schilling, Schilling, Connolly, 1998) reported somewhat mixed findings on the influence of student-faculty interaction. For example, in a study classifying students according to their patterns of engagement in a variety of in-class and out-of-class college activities, Kuh, Hu, & Vesper (2000) found that one group of students (Artists) reported more frequent contact with faculty but fewer benefits from their college experience than other groups of students who reported less frequent contact. In another study, Olsen et al. (1998) noted that contact with faculty by first-year students at a research university was primarily related to clarifying class assignments and lacked intellectual substance and depth. In addition, the expectations that incoming students had about the nature of their relationship with faculty members seemed to characterize them more as guides or friends than scholar-teachers, thus emphasizing social aspects. However, after being on campus for a year, the same students were associating faculty more with academic and intellectual matters (Olsen et al., 1998), consistent with model of student-faculty relationships as those of novice-expert.

Purpose of the Study

Much has changed in American higher education in the past several decades including student characteristics, attendance patterns, teaching and learning approaches, instructional technology, and students' place of residence (Astin, 1997; Kuh, 1999). Have the nature and educational value of student-faculty interaction changed as well? [End Page 310]

This study examines the character and impact of student-faculty interaction on student learning and personal development in the 1990s. Three questions guided the research:

First, what is the nature of undergraduate student-faculty interaction from the first year of college through the senior year? Do the frequency and type of student-faculty contact change over time as students take more courses in their major field? Do certain types of interactions increase, such as discussions with faculty mentors about career plans, as students get closer to graduating and seeking employment?

Second, what is the contribution of student-faculty interaction to student satisfaction during college? As classes become smaller and faculty members are more likely to know students by name, it stands to reason that student-faculty interaction would increase. Does student satisfaction increase as well?

Finally, what do different forms of contact between students and faculty contribute to student learning and satisfaction? Are contacts focused on academic performance (such as improving writing and discussing class readings outside the classroom), more powerful antecedents of intellectual development than informal social contacts? And does social-oriented interaction contribute more to personal development outcomes such as self-understanding and values clarification?

Methods

The source of data for this study is student responses to the third edition of the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ) (Pace, 1990a) which has been used at several hundred four-year colleges and universities to assess the quality of the undergraduate experience.

Instrument

The CSEQ collects information about student characteristics, such as age, race, gender, place of residence, parent educational level, employment status, enrollment status, and major field. Most of the items focus on students' experiences in three areas: (a) the amount of time and energy (effort) they devote to various activities (14 Activities scales totaling 138 items plus items about the amount of reading, writing, and studying), (b) perceptions of important dimensions of their institution's environment (8 Environment items), and (c) estimates of how much progress they have made toward a variety of desirable outcomes of college (23 Estimate of Gains items).

All of the questions on the CSEQ tap student behaviors that are highly correlated with desirable learning and personal development outcomes. The Activities scales (such as the Experiences with Faculty scale featured in this [End Page 311] study) are Guttman-like in their construction; that is, each scale begins with items that presume less effort from students (e.g., casual conversation with a faculty member, asking about course-related matters) with subsequent items requiring more substantive exchanges and effort (e.g., seeking feedback about academic performance, worked on a research project). The Experiences with Faculty Activity scale is positively correlated with the other 13 Activities scales from the third edition of the CSEQ. According to the CSEQ norms (Kuh, Vesper, Connolly, & Pace, 1997), the Experiences with Faculty scale loads on the Academic/Intellectual Activity Factor along with such scales as Course Learning, Writing, and Library Experiences. The other Activity factor is Personal/Social which includes items representing experiences in campus residences, the union, and social peer activities. Thus, the CSEQ provides information not only about the frequency of contact between students and faculty but also about the nature and quality of the contact and other experiences in college.

The CSEQ is considered to have sound psychometric properties and high to moderate potential for assessing student behavior associated with college outcomes (Ewell & Jones, 1996). In large part this is because the items are constructed to ask to students to reflect on what they are putting into and getting out of their college experience. As with all survey questionnaires, the CSEQ relies on self reports from students. Self reports are generally valid under three conditions: (a) when respondents know the information requested, (b) if the questions are phrased unambiguously, and (c) if respondents think the questions merit a serious and thoughtful response (Baird, 1976; Lowman & Williams, 1987; Pace, 1985; Pike, 1989, 1995; Pohlman & Beggs, 1974; Turner & Martin, 1984). CSEQ items satisfy these conditions.

The distributions of responses on the Activities and Gains scales are approximately normal, and the psychometric properties of the instrument indicate that it is reliable (Kuh, Vesper, Connelly, & Pace, 1997). The Gains items ask students how much they think their college or university experience contributed to their own growth and development; and Gain scores are generally consistent with other evidence, such as results from achievement tests (Pace, 1985; Pike, 1995). For example, Pike (1995) found that students' reports of their experiences using the CSEQ were positively correlated with relevant achievement test scores. In this sense, the progress students report is a "value-added" judgment (Pace, 1990b). At the same time, in the absence of other information the estimate of gains items cannot substitute for results from, for example, objective achievement tests as evidence of the impact of college (Pike, 1996). [End Page 312] [Begin Page 314]

Sample

The students on which this study is based (N = 5,409) were randomly selected from 126 colleges and universities to approximate a 10% sample of the 54,488 full-time enrolled undergraduates who completed all items on the CSEQ between 1990 and 1997. Included in the study were 20 research universities (RU), 14 doctoral universities (DU), 44 comprehensive colleges and universities (CCU), 15 selective liberal arts colleges (SLA), and 33 general liberal arts colleges (GLA) as classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (1994). Table 1 shows the background characteristics of the sample. Women (61%), first-year students (35%), and students from private colleges were overrepresented compared with the national profile of undergraduates attending four-year colleges and universities. Also, about half of the students (45%) were majoring in a pre-professional area.

Conceptual Model

Our analysis of the data followed Pascarella's (1985) general causal model of environmental influences on student learning and personal development. This framework has five major clusters of variables that have direct and indirect effects on desired outcomes. The first two clusters--student background characteristics and institutional structural and organizational properties--are mutually shaping and are thought to influence a third cluster: students' perceptions of the environment. Taken together, student characteristics, institutional characteristics, and views of the environment determine in part the nature and frequency of student interaction with key "agents of socialization," the two most important of which are peers and faculty members. All of these factors (except for institutional characteristics) are presumed to affect the quality of the effort students expend in educationally effective activities (reading, writing, etc.) which, in turn, affects their learning. In addition, interactions with faculty members are also thought to have direct effects on learning.

There are other ways to think about the causal ordering of these variables. For example, it is conceivable, especially for students who have enjoyed some success in the classroom, that their positive experiences with faculty members create favorable views of the environment. Indeed, it is likely that the relationships between views of the environment and faculty contact are in some instances mutually shaping. However, Pascarella's model is consistent with the theoretical basis on which the CSEQ activities items and scales are designed. That is, the nature and frequency of student-faculty interaction affect the amount of effort students devote to other educationally purposeful activities, while the combination of student-faculty interaction and other educational efforts positively affects gains and satisfaction. For this reason we used the Pascarella model to guide the analysis. [End Page 314]

Data Analysis

Socioeconomic status (SES) and student ability are highly correlated and affect college outcomes (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). For this reason, two control variables were created, student SES and academic preparation. SES was the combination of the level of parents' education and the amount parents contributed to college costs. Academic preparation was represented by the sum of student self-reported grades and an item about educational aspirations. In addition, institutional selectivity and control (public, private) were also controlled in all analyses with the selectivity measures taken from Barron's Profiles of American Colleges (1998). 1 Student gender, race and ethnicity, major field, institutional type, and year in college were coded as dummy variables. To account for the influence of the environment on student-faculty interaction, we used the three Environment factor scores that resulted from a factor analysis of students' responses to eight CSEQ Environment items. These factors are the extent to which students perceive that their school (a) emphasizes scholarly and intellectual activities, (b) emphasizes acquiring vocational and practical competencies, and (c) manifests congenial relations among faculty, students, and administrators (Kuh et al., 1997).

We coded the variables as follows:

  • Sex (0 = female, 1 = male)

  • Race or ethnicity was coded as a set of dummy variables: Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Whites, and students from "other" backgrounds (American Indians and others), with Whites as the omitted reference group

  • SES (the sum of parent education where 1 = neither parent a college graduate, 2 = one parent a college graduate, and 3 = both parents college graduates plus the amount parents contribute to college costs where 1 = none to 4 = all or nearly all)

  • Academic preparation (the sum of grades where 5 = A and 1 = C, C- or lower plus educational aspirations where 2 = expect to pursue an advanced degree after college and 1 = does not expect to pursue an ad- vanced degree) [End Page 315]

  • Major fields were assigned to four clusters and also coded as dummy variables: humanities (arts, literature, history, philosophy, religion, foreign language), science and mathematics (including computer science), social sciences (economics, political science, psychology, sociology), and professional/applied (agriculture, business, education, engineering, health-related fields such as nursing). We excluded students who were undecided or who indicated some "other" major from this analysis. The preprofessional major category was omitted as the reference group.

  • Institutional type (RU, DU, CCU, SLA, GLA with CCU omitted as a reference group)

  • Institutional control (0 = public, 1 = private)

  • Institutional selectivity (6 = most competitive, 5 = highly competitive, 4 = very competitive, 3 = competitive, 2 = less competitive, and 1 = not competitive)

  • Year in college (first-year, sophomore, junior, and senior, with first-year omitted as reference group)

  • Hours per week devoted to attending and preparing for class (1 = less than 20, 2 = about 20, 3 = about 30, 4 = about 40, and 5 = about 50 or more)

  • EFFORTSUM (sum of all Activities item scores excluding interaction scale items)

  • GAINSUM (sum of all Gain items)

  • Gain factor scores (sum of Gain item scores contributing to each of the five gain factors of general education, intellectual skills, personal/social development, science and technology, and vocational preparation) (Kuh et al., 1997)

  • Student satisfaction (the sum of student responses to two items scored on four-point scales: "How well do you like college?" and "If you could start over again, would you go to the same college you are now attending?")

We specified student-faculty interaction in two different ways. We based the first model on an overall index of student-faculty interaction, STUFAC, which is the sum of all 13 individual student-faculty interaction items. This aggregate estimate of student-faculty interaction (STUFAC) was computed by summing responses (coded as 1 = never, 2 = occasionally, 3 = often, 4 = very often) to the 13 CSEQ items related to student-faculty contact listed in Table 2. Ten of these 13 items comprise the CSEQ Experiences with Faculty Activity scale (e.g., talked with a faculty member, visited informally after class, discussed career plans, had coffee with a faculty member, worked on a research project) and three other contact items (met with a faculty advisor of a club, asked an instructor for advice to improve writing, talked with an instructor who criticized your work) from two other Activities scales (Writing, Clubs, and Organizations). These items were sufficient to provide insights [End Page 316] on how overall student-faculty interaction affects GAINSUM and satisfaction. However, as pointed out earlier, it is important to specify the nature of student-faculty interaction (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). To examine the effects of substantively different student-faculty interactions on outcomes while also reducing the dimensions of the nature of student-faculty interaction, we conducted a factor analysis on the 13 student-faculty interaction items. A principal component factor analysis (oblique rotation) produced three factors: (a) Substantive Academic or Career-Related Interaction (7 items), (b) Out-of Class Personal or Social Contact (4 items), and (c) Writing Improvement (2 items). (See Table 2.) Then, we summed the scores of the items in each factor and used them as factor scores in further analyses. A supplementary correlation analysis and examination of collinearity indicated that multi-collinearity among the three factors was not a concern.

Consistent with the Pascarella model, we used a series of multiple regressions to determine how student characteristics, institutional characteristics, and other student experiences during college were related to overall student-faculty interaction and three interaction factors. To better understand the effects of STUFAC on the college experience, we examined the effects of STUFAC on EFFORTSUM and estimated both the net effects and the gross effects of STUFAC on satisfaction and gains. We used the environment measures from the CSEQ as control variables when gains and satisfaction were outcome variables. To do this we conducted a series of multiple regressions to examine the influence of STUFAC and three interaction factors on the total amount of effort students devoted to other college activities (EFFORTSUM). Finally, we used a series of two-step multiple regressions to examine the gross and net effects of student-faculty interaction (STUFAC) on student overall gains (GAINSUM), satisfaction, and the scores from each of the five Gain factors (general education, personal development, science and technology, vocational preparation, and intellectual development). Therefore, in this latter set of regressions, we treated EFFORTSUM as a mediating variable between student-faculty interaction and satisfaction, GAINSUM, and the three gain factors (Wolfle, 1980).

Results

As shown in Table 2, the most frequent type of contact with faculty that students reported was general, such as asking for information about a course or visiting after class. Students reported relatively little personal or social contact with faculty out-of-class, such as coming together over cokes and snacks or discussing personal problems. The least frequent type of contact was working with a faculty member on a research project. [End Page 317]

Table 3 presents comparisons of the overall measure of student-faculty interaction (STUFAC) and the three student-faculty interaction factors (substantive interaction, out-of-class contact, writing improvement) that contribute to STUFAC by student characteristics (gender, race/ethnicity, SES), institutional characteristics (selectivity, control, institutional type), major field (humanities, social sciences, mathematics and science; preprofessional and applied), year in school (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior), time on school work, and institutional environment measures.

When we controlled student characteristics, institutional characteristics, and college environment factors, we found no significant gender difference in student-faculty interaction. Compared with White students, Asian American students reported less frequent substantive interaction with faculty, [End Page 318] African American students had more interaction with faculty across the board (STUFAC, all three interaction factors), and Latino students had more contact with a faculty member related to writing improvement. The better a student's academic preparation and the more time spent preparing for class, the higher the STUFAC score scores on the substantive interaction and out-of-class contact factors. However, academic preparation was negatively related (though it was not quite statistically significant) to writing improvement contacts, reflecting the likelihood that students who get more assistance from faculty members with their writing may be struggling in this area of their performance. (See Table 3.) [End Page 319]

Compared with students in preprofessional areas, students in the humanities and social sciences reported more contact with faculty (STUFAC and all three interaction factors). Math and science majors had fewer contacts with faculty members related to writing improvement, perhaps because they write fewer papers overall than students in other majors.

The few differences associated with institutional type were consistent with other research (Boyer Commission, 1998; Kuh & Vesper, 1997). For example, students at RUs had lower overall STUFAC scores and reported fewer substantive interactions with faculty members, while GLA students reported the most out-of-class contact with faculty, compared to students at CCUs. Students in private institutions reported more out-of-class contact with faculty than students in public institutions. A mild surprise was that institutional selectivity did not significantly influence student-faculty interaction.

As expected, year in school made a difference in the frequency and nature of student-faculty interaction. STUFAC, substantive interaction, and out-of-class contact all increased as students moved through the four years of college. However, the further along students were in their studies, the less contact they had with faculty members related to writing improvement, using first-year students as the comparison group. (See Table 3.)

Perceptions of the institutional environment affected STUFAC and the interaction factors in several important ways. The better the perceived quality of relations between various groups (peers, faculty, administration), the more contact students had with faculty (STUFAC, all three interaction factors). (See Table 3.) In addition, students who perceived that their school emphasized scholarly and intellectual activities and that their courses had practical and vocational relevance interacted more frequently with faculty about writing improvement.

To better understand the effects of STUFAC on the college experience, we next examined the effects of STUFAC on EFFORTSUM, satisfaction, and gains. To understand the nature of these relationships, we had to examine the effects of STUFAC on EFFORTSUM and estimate both the net effects and the gross effects of STUFAC on satisfaction and gains. Table 4 summarizes the effects of student background and institutional characteristics on gains and satisfaction after controlling for EFFORTSUM (the sum of all effort sans student-faculty interaction). It also presents the results of the effects of STUFAC and the three student-faculty interaction factor scores on EFFORTSUM, satisfaction, GAINSUM (the sum of all gain items scores), and each of the five Gain factor scores. In this latter analysis, the overall interaction score (STUFAC) and the three factor scores can have both direct and indirect effects on GAINSUM, satisfaction, and the Gain factors. That is, EFFORTSUM serves as a mediating variable for satisfaction, GAINSUM, [End Page 320] and the Gain factor scores, where STUFAC affects EFFORTSUM which, in turn, affects satisfaction and the different Gain variables (Wolfle, 1980).

All things being equal, male students had higher scores on GAINSUM and four of the five gain factors but reported a lower level of personal development. (See Table 4.) Compared with White students, African Americans reported expending more overall effort (STUFAC) and gaining more in general education; however, they were less satisfied with college. Asian American students were also less satisfied compared with White students and had a lower vocational preparation gain score. SES was positively related to EFFORTSUM and personal development gains. Academic preparation was positively related to satisfaction, GAINSUM and the general education, vocational education, and intellectual development gain scores.

Compared with students in preprofessional fields, students in the humanities put forth more educational effort (EFFORTSUM) and reported greater gains in general education; however, they had lower scores on the other four gain factors. (See Table 4.) Math and science majors had higher scores on EFFORTSUM, GAINSUM, and the science and technology and intellectual development factors but lower scores on general education and personal development. Students majoring in the social sciences had higher scores on EFFORTSUM and general education but reported gaining less in vocational preparation.

Consistent with results from previous studies (e.g., Kuh & Hu, in press; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991), institutional type made little difference on student efforts in college activities and gains from college. However, compared with students at CCUs, students at RUs and DUs were more satisfied with their college experience. In addition, DU students gained the most in intellectual development, while SLA students gained the most in general education; however, SLA students had the lowest vocational preparation score. The more selective the institution, the higher the levels of educational effort and satisfaction; however, selectivity was not directly related to gains.

As expected, first-year students had the lowest scores on GAINSUM and all the gain factors. However, satisfaction did not differ across the four years of college. Sophomores reported the highest amount of educational effort (EFFORTSUM) and seniors the lowest. The amount of time students spent on academics was positively related to EFFORTSUM, GAINSUM, gains in science and technology, vocational preparation, and intellectual development. The institutional environment measures had uniformly positive effects on satisfaction, all gain measures, and EFFORTSUM, except for the quality of personal relations factor, which did not reach significance. (See Table 4.)

Table 5 summarizes the effects of STUFAC and three interaction factors on EFFORTSUM, satisfaction, GAINSUM, and the five gain factors. The overall frequency of student-faculty interaction (STUFAC) had considerable [End Page 321] [Begin Page 325] influence on the amount of effort students expended on other educationally purposeful activities (EFFORTSUM). That is, although STUFAC had significant and positive gross effects on GAINSUM and each of the five Gain factors, STUFAC did not affect satisfaction. Moreover, when EFFORTSUM was held constant, STUFAC did not directly affect satisfaction, GAINSUM, and gains in science and technology, vocational preparation, and intellectual development. However, STUFAC had negative effects on the general education and personal development factor gain scores.

All three interaction factors positively affected EFFORTSUM, suggesting that student-faculty interaction may affect gains and satisfaction indirectly through the amount of educational effort students put forth (EFFORTSUM). At the same time, the factors had differential effects on gains and satisfaction. Substantive student-faculty interaction had positive gross effects on GAINSUM, general education, personal development, vocational preparation, and intellectual development as well as positive net effects on vocational preparation and intellectual development. Out-of-class contact had positive gross effects on satisfaction, GAINSUM, general education, personal development, science and technology, and vocational preparation, but it had negative net effects on GAINSUM and intellectual development. Writing improvement had positive gross effects on GAINSUM, general education, personal development, science and technology, and intellectual development. It also had positive net effects on intellectual development. At the same time, students' writing improvement-related contacts with faculty had negative net effects on satisfaction and vocational preparation.

Limitations

This study has several limitations. First, it is possible that sampling bias may affect the results in unknown ways. Though data from about 130 schools are included, the sample is not necessarily representative of American higher education. To compensate for this possibility, we controlled for institutional selectivity and student characteristics in the analysis. Even so, if students from different colleges and universities were included in the study, the results may have been different.

Many schools use convenience sampling approaches when administering the CSEQ; that is, students are asked to complete the instrument during a class or are selected for participation through some other process that could bias the results in unknown ways.

It is also possible that the student-faculty interaction items in the third edition of the CSEQ may not be sensitive to changes in the nature of student-faculty interaction over the past couple of decades. The fourth edition includes a couple of technology-related student-faculty interaction items [End Page 325] including the frequency with which students use e-mail to contact faculty and peers and the degree to which they use electronic media to work on course-related topics (Pace & Kuh, 1998).

Third, we used the Pascarella model to guide our analysis. This approach assumes that students' views of the environment influence their interaction with faculty members. It is possible that this relationship is mutually shaping or that satisfactory relations with one or more faculty members positively affect one's views of the institutional environment. Fourth, hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) (Bryk & Raudenbush, 1992; Ethington, 1997) is a more powerful technique for analyzing data from different levels (i.e., students and colleges). However, we do not think it would substantially change the nature of the relationships found in this study. Finally, if additional institutional characteristics were added to the analysis--such as per student educational expenditures, faculty-student ratios, and research productivity--perhaps a different picture of the effects of student-faculty interaction would have emerged.

Discussion

The findings of this study point to four conclusions about student-faculty interaction in the 1990s.

First, as one would expect, contact between students and faculty members increases during the four years of college. Advanced courses in the major field are usually smaller than the introductory survey or general education classes students take in the first two years of baccalaureate study, thus allowing students to get to know their professors better. Upper-division students are more likely to be established in a major field of study, are more confident about their thinking and knowledge base compared with first-year students, and find it easier and more stimulating to converse about substantive topics with faculty members. Faculty themselves likely make themselves more accessible to juniors and seniors, as they are more comfortable with and find it more rewarding to work on an individual basis with more intellectually mature students in the context of their discipline.

Second, the positive effects of student-faculty contact on satisfaction and gains are mediated through the efforts that students expend on other activities. That is, STUFAC did not directly affect satisfaction, net of EFFORTSUM. As mentioned earlier, Kuh et al. (2000) found that some groups of students (Artists) who had more frequent contact with faculty reported gains comparable to those of other students who had less contact with faculty (Individualists). However, the results of this study show positive net effects of student-faculty interaction on the amount of effort students devoted to other educationally purposeful activities and positive gross [End Page 326] effects on all types of gain measures. There may be two explanations for what appear to be contradictory findings.

First, the foci and analytical methods of these two studies were different. Kuh et al. (2000) used cluster analysis to produce a typology of unique student groups by identifying patterns of student engagement in college activities. In this study, we used regression analysis to examine general patterns of the relationships between student-faculty interaction and a variety of college outcomes.

Second, although student-faculty interaction affected EFFORTSUM, it accounted for only about 40% of the gross EFFORTSUM variance. Thus, although student-faculty interaction was positively related to both EFFORTSUM and gains, some students who interacted less frequently with faculty apparently also devoted considerable effort to other educational activities and therefore realized above average gains, a finding consistent with those in Kuh et al. (2000).

Third, institutional type and selectivity have limited influence on the manner in which student-faculty interaction affects student satisfaction and gains. Other studies (Astin, 1993) including some using CSEQ data (Kuh, Vesper, & Pace, 1997; Pace, 1990b), show that the frequency and quality of student-faculty interaction are typically greater at small colleges. That pattern was true in this study as well; students at GLAs reported the most contact with faculty members and students at RUs the least. At the same time, all things held constant (e.g., student academic efforts), students at the RUs in this study were the most satisfied, even though they had less contact with faculty members than their counterparts at other types of schools. Given the dramatic cost differential between most public and private colleges and universities, these findings warrant further exploration. At the same time, institutional environments characterized by high-quality personal relations among various groups on campus (students, faculty, administrators) consistently and positively affected student satisfaction and gains. In addition, students who interacted more with faculty were more likely to be satisfied and reported higher gains.

Finally, the effects of student-faculty interaction are conditional. For example, students who were better prepared academically and who devoted more effort to their studies interacted more frequently with faculty members. It is not clear whether this is because such students were more assertive in seeking out faculty members or whether faculty members invited students who performed well academically to make contact (e.g., writing laudatory comments in the margins of a student's paper suggesting they talk further about the topic). Most likely, both forms of student and faculty behavior are operating (Bean & Kuh, 1984).

On the one hand, both substantive and social out-of-class contacts appear to positively influence (though indirectly) what students get from their [End Page 327] college experience, their views of the college environment (especially the quality of personal relations), and their satisfaction. On this point, doing research with a faculty member loaded on the out-of-class contact factor, which makes sense, as this contact likely occurs outside the traditional class hour. Perhaps in the context of such interactions, students are more likely to discuss personal matters; if true, it may explain why such contact made little difference to either gains or satisfaction. In addition, substantive contact had net positive effects on vocational preparation and intellectual development, outcomes that a variety of groups including students, employers, and policy makers consider to be very important.

On the other hand, the net effects of STUFAC on general education and personal development gains were negative and the net effects of out-of-class contacts were negative on GAINSUM and intellectual development. This may be because the nature of such interactions are not focused on things that matter to desired learning outcomes. In addition, talking with faculty members about writing came close to having a significant negative effect on satisfaction. It is possible that many students--especially in the first year--interpret faculty feedback on their writing as overwhelmingly critical while faculty members may intend their critique as a challenge to achieve higher levels of performance. Good intentions notwithstanding, such feedback may come as a shock to many new students who earned relatively high grades in high school. At the same time, contact with faculty focused on writing improvement was positively related to the amount of time devoted to educationally purposeful college activities and gains.

Implications

On balance, if student satisfaction is the goal, it appears that colleges and universities should develop and sustain a welcoming, supportive, affirming environment. In terms of enhancing the impact of college, faculty members should, when possible, steer out-of-class conversations toward substantive matters, including discussions about how the students can use what they are learning in their lives outside the classroom and beyond the campus.

When working with students on their writing, faculty members should be sensitive about how they approach and explain the need for improving writing-related skills and competencies. Many first- and second-year students may take such criticism personally, even though it also seems to spur them to devote additional effort to their studies. It is possible that many students do not see the immediate results of attempts to improve their writing or the transferability of writing skills to such aspects of their lives as post-college employment. Colleges should attempt to make clear to students the value of developing strong writing skills. Perhaps career services professionals can work with faculty members, local employers, and alumni [End Page 328] to find ways to persuasively demonstrate the value of clear written expression. Additional research into the nature of conversations about writing improvement would also be instructive.

Given that social contacts between students and faculty members, such as having cokes and snacks with faculty, had limited effects on satisfaction and gains, institutional policies that encourage and allocate resources to support such informal interaction should be reviewed to determine whether faculty effort could be directed toward other potentially more meaningful ways that students can learn from and about faculty members. These might take the form of faculty-supervised internships, faculty-moderated class discussions among recent graduates and students in upper-division courses in the major, or capstone experiences that encourage students to synthesize what they have learned. The students could then apply this knowledge to solve concrete problems in their field, perhaps through community service or some other venue that directly connects students with agencies and organizations on or off campus that can benefit from the sort of expertise that students offer.

Additional research would be desirable to determine the causal ordering of the relationships among student-faculty interaction, satisfaction, and the student's views of the environment. That is, are students who are more satisfied with college therefore more likely to engage with faculty about to substantive matters? Or do certain experiences with faculty lead to higher levels of satisfaction with college and a willingness to devote more effort to educationally purposeful activities?

Conclusion

The results of this study, for the most part, are consistent with much of the previous research on student-faculty interaction. In general, for most students most of the time, the more interaction with faculty the better. The possible exceptions are meeting with faculty members about improving their written work and interacting with faculty informally outside the classroom. The former appears to be important in developing academic skills and many desirable gains, but it also has a mild dampening effect on student satisfaction. Out-of-class contact appear to positively shape students' perceptions of the campus environment, which is very important because it directly contributes to the effort they put forth which consequently affects satisfaction and their gains. However, socially oriented contacts do not directly contribute to desired outcomes.

The most important finding from this study is that student-faculty interaction encourages students to devote greater effort to other educationally purposeful activities during college. This finding clarifies and reinforces previous research. However, the dynamics of how student contact with faculty [End Page 329] contribute to this heightened and balanced engagement are not clear. Perhaps meeting and talking with faculty members empower students to do more than they think they can and help validate them as full members of the campus community. Such contact may, in turn, legitimate their presence and makes them feel more comfortable about extending themselves and becoming engaged in a variety of activities.



George D. Kuh is Professor of Higher Education at the Center for Postsecondary Research and Planning at the School of Education, Indiana University, Bloomington, where he directs the National Survey of Student Engagement and the College Student Experiences Questionnaire research program. Shouping Hu is Assistant Professor of Educational Administration in the Department of Educational Administration and Supervision, College of Education and Human Services, at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. His current research concentrates on college choice, persistence, financial aid policy, and college student engagement in learning and out-of-class activities. Address queries to George D. Kuh at the school above, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405; telephone: (812) 856-8383; fax: (812) 856-8394; e-mail: kuh@indiana.edu.

Note

1. The Barron's selectivity index is based on the following information provided by colleges: median entrance examination scores for the first-year class, percentages of first-year students scoring 500 and above and 600 and above on both the verbal reasoning and mathematics reasoning sections of the SAT (noncentered), percentages of first-year students scoring 21 and above and 27 and above on the ACT, percentage of first-year students who ranked in the upper fifth and upper two-fifths of their high school graduating class, minimum class rank and grade point average required for admission, and percentage of applicants who were accepted for admission (Barron's Profiles of American Colleges, 1996, pp. 223-234).

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Additional Information

ISSN
1090-7009
Print ISSN
0162-5748
Launched on MUSE
2001-03-01
Open Access
No
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