Roksa, J. and S.E. Whitney. 2017. “Fostering Academic Success of First-Year Students: Exploring the Roles of Motivation, Race and Faculty.” Journal of College Student Development, 58, 353–348.
Summary of the Article
This article by Josipa Roksa and Sarah Whitney focuses on the influence of academic motivation, racial group membership (African American and white), and faculty members’ interest in student learning and development (student-centeredness) on first-year academic success. Roksa and Whitney are interested in whether higher levels of academic motivation benefit the first-year academic performance of African American students more than white students. The authors also analyze the interaction between academic motivation and racial group membership and its relationship to first-year academic performance across varying degrees of faculty student-centeredness. An increased understanding of factors that influence college student success in the first year results from empirical attention to these foci.
Roksa and Whitney measured first-year academic performance as the students’ grade point average at the end of the first year of college. They used a composite scale comprised of eight items to measure academic motivation. Examples of these items are as follows: “I am willing to work hard in a course to learn the material even if it won’t lead to a higher grade,” “I frequently do more reading in a class than is required simply because it interests me,” and “I enjoy the challenge of learning complicated new material” (p. 339).
The authors used a composite scale of five items to measure faculty interest in teaching and student development. These items used the stem “Most faculty with whom I have had contact are…”. Examples of statements used to complete this stem are: “genuinely interested in students,” “interested in helping students grow in more than just academic areas,” “outstanding teachers,” and “genuinely interested in teaching” (p. 339). Roksa and Whitney view faculty interest in teaching and student development as an indicator of the educational philosophy of a faculty member. The authors view faculty members’ interest in teaching and student development as interchangeable if the faculty member is student-centered.
The authors used data collected as a part of the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education (WNS) to obtain these measures of academic motivation, faculty interest in teaching and student development, and first-year academic performance. The WNS includes 43 four-year colleges and universities, which include 28 liberal arts colleges, six research universities, and nine regional colleges and universities. The WNS used a longitudinal panel design with data collected from students over a four-year period. However, the sample the authors used was derived from the first-year data collection phase of the project. Their sample consisted of 5,993 students, which included 632 African American students.
The authors used ordinary least squares regression to test the influence of academic motivation, racial group membership, faculty interest in teaching and student development, and interactions between being African American and academic motivation on first-year grade point average. They also statistically controlled for other possible influences on first-year grade point average, including student background characteristics (gender and parental education), high school academic achievement level, and SAT or ACT scores.
Discussion of the Findings
Roksa and Whitney report that first-year African American students express higher degrees of academic motivation than their white counterparts. However, higher levels of academic motivation do not result in higher grade point averages for African American students. They state, “African American students benefited less from academic motivation” (p. 342). Moreover, faculty interest in teaching and student development positively influences students’ first-year grade point average.
Because of the positive influence of faculty interest in teaching and student development (student-centered faculty), Roksa and Whitney conducted additional regression analyses for low, medium, and high levels of student-centered faculty members. For students who viewed faculty members as having medium and high levels of being student-centered (interest in teaching and student development) the interaction between being African American and academic motivation was not statistically significant. However, Roksa and Whitney report when students perceive that faculty are not interested in their learning and development, or have a low degree of student-centeredness, there is a strong negative interaction between academic motivation and being African American. Moreover, the authors report that about 45 percent of African American students indicated that faculty members are not interested in their learning and development or have a low degree of student-centeredness.
Implications for Action by Campus Leaders
Several implications for action by CIC campus leaders result from the positive influence of faculty members’ interest in teaching and student development or their degree of student centeredness on the first-year academic performance of students. These implications include faculty recruitment, the reward structure for faculty, and academic advising of African American students. CIC member institutions should recruit new faculty members who espouse an interest in teaching and learning. Such a focus fully resonates with the teaching culture of CIC institutions. Members of faculty search committees could assess through face-to-face interviews and teaching demonstrations the degree to which a faculty candidate espouses a student-centered teaching approach. The five items used to measure faculty interest in teaching and student development could also be included on course evaluation forms. Faculty personnel decisions such as annual salary adjustments, reappointment, tenure and promotion might also make use of an individual faculty member’s ratings on student-centeredness. Academic advisors should also encourage their African American advisees to take courses from faculty who espouse a high degree of student centeredness.
About the Authors
Josipa Roksa is an associate professor of sociology and education at the University of Virginia.
Sarah E. Whitley is a doctoral candidate in the higher education program at the University of Virginia.
Literature Readers May Wish to Consult
References from this article that readers may wish to consult:
Kuh, G.D., J.L. Kinzie, J.H. Schuh, E.J. Whitt, and Associates. 2005. Student Success in College: Creating Conditions that Matter. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Museus, S.D. and K.M. Neville. 2012. “Delineating the Ways that Key Institutional Agents Provide Racial Minority Students with Access to Social Capital in College.” Journal of College Student Development, 53, 436–452.