Predictors of close teacher−student relationships in college: Findings from the Gallup−Purdue Index

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 Science. PDF.

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.

Key Take aways (selected sections from discussion)

The most robust predictors of perceived faculty support and mentorship were indicators of engagement beyond the classroom. Specifically, 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.

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.

In addition to extracurricular engagement, student demographics appeared to play a role in student perceptions of faculty support and mentorship. When only demographics were considered, first-generation students were less likely to endorse having a close and supportive relationship with a mentor while in college, and first-generation and racial minority status were both associated with lower perceptions of faculty support and caring, aligning with evidence suggesting that underrepresented students face obstacles to accessing naturally occurring mentoring relationships.

In addition to extracurricular engagement and student demographic variables, the university context also appears to be important; greater institution size was consistently the strongest predictor of lower perceptions of faculty caring and support, and also a robust predictor of lower ratings of access to mentorship during college. This finding is consistent with previous research suggesting that smaller colleges create an environment more conducive to faculty-student relationships due to a greater focus on undergraduate teaching and smaller class sizes

Findings suggest that extracurricular activities, particularly those that are academically oriented, are closely tied to supportive interactions between students and college staff, and that these extracurricular activities may be particularly important for fostering faculty-student relationships within underrepresented student groups. Colleges and universities should, therefore, work to expand the availability and accessibility of high-impact extracurricular activities for all students. For example, to alleviate the time and financial constraints of underrepresented students, colleges and universities can expand programs that offer students course credit for participating in faculty research or academically oriented internships. Large institutions, which appear to be less conducive to mentoring relationships between faculty and undergraduates, might consider increasing the availability of faculty appointments focused on undergraduate teaching, and more systematically incentivize and reward faculty for engaging in mentoring activities throughout hiring and tenure or promotion guidelines.