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New Research Examines How Faculty Impact Student Success

Mar 13, 2019

 New Research Examines How Faculty Impact Student Success


Credit: Delaware Valley University. Associate Professor of Animal Science Dr. Bruce Richards working with a student.

Small colleges and universities all over the country are working to figure out how they can get students to remain on campus and complete their degrees. A new Delaware Valley University study looked at how student-faculty relationships may help to address student academic success. 

Retention in higher education has become an important area of focus, but much of the research has been conducted on large, research-intensive universities, leading to questions of whether these findings apply to institutions with different characteristics. Past research has also focused on students in their early years of college. The new study includes undergraduate students at various levels to better understand what truly retains students at all points of their education. The study also includes measures of academic performance and commitment when defining success.

Dr. Allison Buskirk-Cohen, chair of the Department of Counseling Psychology, worked with Aria Plants ’18, who is now a graduate student at Marymount University, to examine how student-faculty relationships impact graduation rates at smaller schools. Plants, a former student of Dr. Buskirk-Cohen’s, completed her bachelor’s in counseling psychology at DelVal. 


The study, “Caring About Success: Students’ Perceptions of Professors’ Caring Matter More Than Grit,” was published in the International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, a peer-reviewed open access journal. To find out which factors may impact student success, the team asked a diverse group of 44 students at a small teaching-focused university to share their perceptions. 

The participants completed self-report measures on their academic success (performance and commitment), sense of belonging, and grit. Participants were classified as belonging to one of four groups: HPHC (high performing, high commitment), HPLC (high performing, low commitment), LPHC (low performing, high commitment), or LPLC (low performing, low commitment). Low performing, low commitment students reported perceiving lower levels of caring from faculty. Interestingly, no group differences emerged for grit, social acceptance, or global university belonging. The study examines the implications of student-faculty relationships and provides suggestions for applying these results to improve retention. 

Dr. Buskirk-Cohen was excited to co-author research with a former student that will help with understanding a national problem in higher education.  

“Aria was involved with all aspects of the research,” said Dr. Buskirk-Cohen. “She assisted in collecting the data, analyzing it, and presenting preliminary results at a national research conference. Then, she worked with me in writing the research manuscript. Working with undergraduate students like Aria is one reason I love DelVal – involving students in these types of mentoring experiences is an important part of who we are.”

To read the full article, please visit isetl.org or, download the study here (PDF).