Student-Faculty Informal Interaction and the Effect on College Student Outcomes: A Review of the Literature

Article excerpt

An underlying assumption for many in American higher education is that there is a relationship between student and faculty that extends beyond formal interaction. Educationally, the notion seems sound. The value of college transcends the transmission of factual material in the classroom. Knowledge is not the exclusive end of education, but a part of the process in which students learn more about society and self.

Sociologically, support is being given to various "cultures" within the college experience that socialize students' values, attitudes, and beliefs. In the last quarter century, researchers have begun to explore the informal nature of student-faculty relationships.

In the earlier days of this research, investigators were concerned with the general nature of the college experience. For example, implications of going to college were compared with not going to college, but with the expanding opportunities in higher education and institutional diversity, the question of college impact is becoming one of the comparative impact of different types of college experiences (Astin, 1970b). Further, inquiries are conducted comparing the effects of students who are residents and nonresidents, traditional age and older reentry students, attenders of large public universities and smaller private colleges, and high-interacting and low-interacting student-faculty informal experiences.

In short, questions on student-faculty informal interaction are moving from what happens to how and why, and from the amount of interaction to the quality of student-faculty relationships.

Although empirical articles on the role of student-faculty interaction are abundant (Alchiatore & Alchiatore, 1979; Davis & Young, 1982; Kestor, 1975; Meloy, 1986; Oramaner, 1981; Reinfeld, 1976; Rhodes, 1975; Sinclair, 1977; Smith, 1976), a growing body of theoretical research is emerging.

This review of the literature is organized under the following headings: (1) Faculty as Agents of Socialization, (2) Academic Achievement, (3) Satisfaction with College, (4) Intellectual and Personal Development, (5) Persistence and Attrition, (6) Career and Educational Aspiration, (7) Faculty Interpersonal Characteristics, (8) Classroom Atmosphere and Evaluation.(1)

A review of research methodology for college student outcomes is also presented.

Faculty as Agents of Socialization

According to the literature, faculty members do influence student outcomes both positively and negatively (Chickering, 1969; Endo & Harpel, 1981; Feldman & Newcomb, 1969; Jacob, 1957; Terenzini, Theophilides, & Lorang, 1984). Though research on college outcomes has increased, there are few empirical studies on student-faculty interaction. As a result, researchers know that certain general types of college experiences may be associated with certain general outcomes, yet little is understood about the specific nature of the interaction which leads to the observed outcomes (Pascarella, 1985).

Jacob's (1957) summary of the literature on the impact of teachers cites evidence that the quality of teaching has little effect on the value outcomes of general education for the majority of students. Elsewhere Jacob concedes that some teachers do exert a profound influence on some students:

Faculty influence appears more profound at institutions where association between faculty and students is normal and frequent, and students find teachers receptive to unhurried conversations out of class. (Jacob, 1957, p. 8)

Feldman and Newcomb (1969) conclude that where both the influence of student peers and of faculty complement and reinforce each other, there is potential for faculty impact. Thus, as faculty take on an increasingly significant quality relationship in the students' social environment, the more likely are the students to be influenced by faculty attitudes and other socializing variables (Pascarella, 1980).

Close student-faculty interaction is identified as being of varying significance in the college socialization process. …

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