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  • Moderating Influences of Student–Faculty Interactions on Students’ Graduate and Professional School Aspirations
  • Teniell L. Trolian (bio) and Eugene T. Parker III (bio)

There is an inverse relationship between lifetime unemployment rates and attainment of advanced college degrees, as well as a positive relationship between levels of human capital and graduate degree attainment (Carnevale, Cheah, & Strohl, 2012). This suggests that there is a need to better understand college experiences that may promote students’ interests in pursuing graduate or professional education. Interactions with faculty members in college influence a host of college outcomes (Kim & Sax, 2017; Mayhew, Rockenbach, Bowman, Seifert, & Wolniak, 2016; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005), but less is known about whether these interactions influence students’ aspirations to attend graduate or professional school and whether this influence is the same for all students. In this study, we examined the relationship between five measures of students’ interactions with faculty in college and students’ aspirations to earn a graduate or professional degree. Additionally, we considered whether this relationship is similar for all students or whether it is moderated by students’ sex or race/ethnicity.


The literature on student–faculty interactions demonstrates a positive link between students’ interactions with faculty in college and outcomes such as cognitive growth, social integration, retention, psychological well-being, and academic motivation (Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Cotton & Wilson, 2006; Kim & Lundberg, 2016; Kuh & Hu, 2001; Smart, Feldman, & Ethington, 2000; Trolian & Archibald, 2015; Trolian, Jach, Hanson, & Pascarella, 2016). Some researchers have also investigated moderating effects of student– faculty interactions, including effects of characteristics such as sex and race/ethnicity, but they have found mixed results. For example, differences have been detected in the frequency of faculty interactions for male and female students (Hagedorn, Maxwell, Rodriguez, Hocevar, & Fillpot, 2000; Komarraju, Musulkin, & Bhattacharya, 2010; Sax, Bryant, & Harper, 2005); however, other research has indicated few differences in outcomes between male and female students who engage in frequent interactions with faculty members (Trolian & Archibald, 2015; Trolian et al., 2016). Similarly, in a study of African American, Asian American, and Latino students, Cole (2010) found similarities between the student groups in course-related contact with faculty and faculty advice/criticism, but also found some differences in terms of students’ experiences with faculty mentorship. Additionally, a study of Latino/a students demonstrated a positive link between GPA and student–faculty exchanges, such as talking with faculty, discussing career plans, [End Page 1261] and working on research projects (Anaya & Cole, 2001), suggesting that some students of color may have differing experiences in their interactions with faculty.

Despite the demonstrated benefits of student–faculty interactions on student growth and learning (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005), few researchers have examined the influence of these experiences on postcollege or career outcomes. Hanson, Paulsen, and Pascarella (2016) found that several faculty practices, including providing prompt feedback to students, engaging in research projects with students, and frequently interacting with students outside of class, were positively related to students’ graduate and professional school aspirations. Additionally, for students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, Eagan et al. (2013) found a positive relationship between participation in undergraduate research and intentions to obtain a graduate or professional degree. Finally, Strayhorn (2010) examined the influence of participation in undergraduate research on students’ STEM graduate degree aspirations for students of color, finding that participation in undergraduate research programs positively influenced STEM graduate degree aspirations but that this relationship did not persist when controlling for other potential influences, such as students’ background characteristics. Despite the important contributions of these studies, researchers have not yet examined whether the relationship between students’ interactions with faculty during college and their graduate and professional school aspirations may be moderated by students’ sex or race/ethnicity.


In this study, we examined whether several measures of students’ interactions with faculty in college are associated with students’ graduate or professional school aspirations. This study adds to the existing literature on student– faculty interactions in college by considering the context of students’ interactions with faculty through the use of five separate measures of student–faculty interaction and by using a precollege measure of students’ degree aspirations to isolate change in aspirations during college. Additionally, we considered whether the relationships examined were moderated...


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pp. 1261-1267
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