The Role of Faculty in Seniors’ Sense of Belonging

The Role of Faculty in Seniors’ Sense of Belonging

Angie Miller—In an article published in Higher Education Research & Development, we used NSSE data to explore how senior students’ faculty-related engagement influences their sense of belonging, particularly when it comes to feeling accepted and valued by professors, administrators, and staff. Authored by NSSE Research Scientist Angie Miller, along with graduate students Latosha Williams and Samantha Silberstein, our study incorporated a subsample of NSSE seniors responding to a set of experimental items on aspects of a supportive environment. 

While previous literature documents the importance of sense of belonging for a positive educational experience, much of this research is focused on students early in their college careers and incorporates only a single measure of sense of belonging. Examining sense of belonging later in a student’s university career can be particularly important for universities that experience attrition in the later years: attrition in the senior year poses the greatest loss of investment for the student. Another unique aspect of our study is the focus on institutional acceptance as one distinct facet within a multidimensional conceptualization of sense of belonging, exploring connections to faculty-related engagement activities.

We used data from 8,939 seniors at a subset of 44 institutions in the 2014 administration of the NSSE to explore potential relationships between one particular facet of sense of belonging and student-faculty interaction, effective teaching practices, and participation in research with faculty. In the experimental item set, students were asked questions about perceptions of belonging regarding peers, faculty, and administration. Two sense of belonging subscales were created from this experimental item set, one of which (termed “institutional acceptance”) was the focus for this study. This idea of institutional acceptance was then further explored for connections to other faculty-related educational experiences for seniors.   

A regression model (also controlling for demographic and institutional characteristics) indicates that increased student-faculty interaction, use of effective teaching practices, and participation in research with faculty have a strong positive impact on feelings of institutional acceptance for seniors. When we added these faculty-related engagement variables to the model, the overall variance explained for institutional acceptance nearly doubled from about 17% explained with only the control variables, to 38% explained with the control variables and the faculty-related variables. Therefore, including the engagement indicators of student-faculty interaction and use of effective teaching practices, and the high-impact practice of research with faculty in the model had important explanatory power when it comes to feeling accepted and valued by institutional figures such as professors, administrators, and staff.

Overall, these findings highlight the importance of parsing out various dimensions of sense of belonging and underscore the impact of faculty in the educational experiences for seniors. This further opens the discussion about many ways in which the campus community can work together to provide opportunities for high-quality interaction with faculty. Institutions can use this information to increase programming and resources for improving student engagement with faculty, knowing that students’ perceptions of institutional acceptance, which contributes to a positive educational experience, can also increase.

Interested in other research using these experimental items on sense of belonging? Check out these studies on living environment and HIP participation for first-year students.

Full study citation:

Miller, A. L., Williams, L. M. & Silberstein, S. M. (2019). Found my place: The importance of faculty relationships for seniors’ sense of belonging. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(3), 594-608. doi: 10.1080/07294360.2018.1551333

Read the full article here