Effects of College Racial Composition on African American Students' Interactions with Faculty

By Flowers, Lamont A. | College Student Affairs Journal, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Effects of College Racial Composition on African American Students' Interactions with Faculty


Flowers, Lamont A., College Student Affairs Journal


This study explored the extent to which African American students attending historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and African American students attending predominantly White institutions (PWIs) had academic and social interactions with faculty members in college. Taking into account demographic characteristics and college experiences, students attending HBCUs reported significantly more academic and social interactions with faculty than students attending PWIs did.

Over the years, research has shown that student-faculty interactions positively impact college students' learning and social outcomes in a variety of significant ways (Kuh & Hu, 2001; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Following an extensive review of the literature on student-faculty informal contact, Pascarella (1980) concluded that a positive relationship existed between the nature and frequency of student-faculty interactions and educational outcomes, including vocational development, educational aspirations, and academic achievement. In their longitudinal study Endo and Harpel (1982) found that the frequency of informal and formal student-faculty interactions positively influenced students' social and intellectual development in college. Student-faculty interactions also have been linked to the development of academic and affective skills that lead to persistence and degree completion (Tinto, 1993). Additionally, Chickering and Reisser (1993) pointed out that student-faculty interactions exerted a positive influence on students' vocational and academic aspirations. Woodside, Wong, and Wiest (1999) also found that student-faculty interactions influenced students' academic orientations in college. Their findings indicated that students who reported that their professors were more engaging were more likely to report higher scores on a measure of academic self-concept.

Taken as a whole, the research on the impact of student-faculty interactions on student development has suggested that students who interact with faculty are more likely to accrue greater academic and social gains than their peers who do not interact with faculty. Specifically, student-faculty interactions have been shown to enhance students' academic development, degree aspirations, and social development in college (Kuh & Hu, 2001; Pascarella, 1980). Astin (1984) added:

Frequent interaction with faculty is more strongly related to satisfaction with college than any other type of involvement or, indeed, any other student or institutional characteristic. Students who interact frequently with faculty members are more likely than other students to express satisfaction with all aspects of their institutional experience, including student friendships, variety of courses, intellectual environment, and even the administration of the institution. (p. 304)

Thus, an underlying assumption guiding this research is that cognitive and psychosocial development in college is a function at least in part of the frequency and magnitude of interactions students have with faculty members in and out of the classroom.

Another line of research germane to this study centered on the impact of racial composition on African American students' experiences and outcomes in college. While this body of research is quite consistent on the point that African American students who attended historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were more likely to receive greater academic and social benefits than African Americans students who attended predominantly White institutions (PWIs) did (Allen, 1987, 1992; Allen, Epps, & Haniff, 1991; Fleming, 1984; Flowers, 2002; Flowers & Pascarella, 1999; Watson & Kuh, 1996), research regarding the influence of college racial composition on student-faculty interactions for African American students has been sparse. To be sure, a small body of research has suggested that African American students were more likely to have student-faculty interactions at HBCUs than at PWIs (Allen, 1987; Fleming, 1984). …

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