How faculty-student mentoring relationships affect college students’ development and academic success

Raposa, E. B., Hagler, M., Liu, D., & Rhodes, J. E. (2021). Predictors of close faculty−student relationships and mentorship in higher education: Findings from the Gallup−Purdue Index. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1483(1), 36–49.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Supportive mentoring relationships have an influential effect on college students’ academic success and overall development. 
  • This study drew data from the Gallup-Purdue Index in order to identify various factors that correlate with positive mentoring relationships among college students. 
  • Findings indicate that first-generation college students and college students attending bigger institutions had a harder time finding a mentor, and rated the faculty and staff at their respective schools as less supportive and caring.
  • College students who were more active in their schools (i.e. participated in clubs, internships, research, etc.) correlated with more positive perceptions of faculty support. 
  • Interestingly, demographic traits moderated several student engagements (e.g. students with more debt correlated with more involvement in long-term projects and more positive perceptions of faculty support. 
  • It’s recommended for colleges/universities to:
    • 1) make “high-impact” extracurricular activities more accessible to college students (specifically for 1st-year students) 
    • 2) [if the institution is large] consider increasing faculty appointments for undergraduate students and provide more incentives for faculty to engage with mentoring relationships with students

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

College students’ supportive relationships with mentors—professors, advisors, and other caring adults to whom students turn as they develop their interests and career paths—are critical to their development and academic success. The current study sought to explore factors that promote or impede the formation of positive mentor–student relationships during college using a large, nationally representative sample of 5,684 college graduates from the Gallup–Purdue Index. Linear regression models revealed that first‐generation college students, as well as students attending larger institutions, rated faculty and other college staff as less caring and supportive, and were less able to identify a supportive mentoring relationship during college. Greater engagement at college, including participation in faculty research, academic internships, long‐term projects, and extracurricular clubs or activities, was associated with stronger perceptions of faculty support and mentorship while in college. Interestingly, demographic characteristics moderated the effects of some extracurricular activities on students’ experiences. For example, participants with more student loans showed a stronger positive association between participation in long‐term academic projects and perceptions of faculty support, relative to students with few loans. These findings have important implications for policies designed to foster sustained and meaningful faculty–student relationships for all students, including those traditionally marginalized on college campuses.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine demographic and institutional-level factors that predict student perceptions of close faculty−student relationships and access to mentorship during college in a large, nationally representative sample. The most robust predictors of perceived faculty support and mentorship were indicators of extracurricular engagement. Specifically, in both domain-specific and overall models, participation in research with a faculty member, having a job or an internship that allowed for the application of classroom learning, completing a long-term academic project, and participation in student clubs/organizations were associated with stronger perceptions of faculty support and connection to mentorship while in college. With respect to involvement with sports activities, participation in NCAA athletics predicted access to mentorship in both domain-specific and overall models, as well as greater perceptions of faculty support in domain-specific models, although these effects were smaller than other extracurricular activities. Participation in intramural sports did not predict either outcome. 

These findings suggest that certain extracurricular activities might be more relevant than others for fostering close student–faculty relationships. In particular, academically oriented activities, such as participating in faculty research, engaging with longterm academic projects, and completing an academically relevant job or internship were the most robust and consistent predictors of faculty–student mentorship and support. These findings support theories that suggest that extended student–faculty interaction that occurs outside of the classroom and that involves shared interests is key to building close student–faculty relationships.27–29 On the other hand, engagement with athletics may be less likely to foster relationships with faculty and other potential mentors on campus, depending on the context. Participation in structured NCAA athletics had consistent, though relatively small, effects on students’ reports of receiving mentoring while in college, and also predicted greater perceptions of faculty support when institution size and student demographics were not included as covariates in the model. This finding is consistent with research indicating that after-school sports can play a key role in connecting younger children to potential mentors.26,39 By contrast, participation in intramural sports did not predict perceptions of faculty or the formation of close mentoring bonds while in college. Intramural sports are primarily student-run activities, with relatively little involvement from faculty and staff. College students have finite time and energy, and it is possible that engagement in peer-oriented activities, while potentially beneficial to peer relations, does not necessarily present opportunities to connect with faculty or other caring adults on college campuses.

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