Liberal arts students most likely to feel supported by faculty, mentors
- Students studying arts and humanities are more likely to feel supported by faculty members or mentors during college than those in other fields of study, found a recent Strada-Gallup survey of more than 32,000 undergraduates.
- Arts and humanities students were more likely than business, social sciences, science and engineering majors to strongly agree that they had a professor who cared about them as a person, a professor who made them excited to learn and a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals. Gallup researchers say this may be due to the smaller average class sizes within liberal arts programs.
- Students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds had only modest differences in how likely they were to feel supported by faculty members. However, there were larger disparities between how black and white undergraduates in arts and humanities programs perceived faculty support.
Having a strong relationship with either a mentor or faculty member during college can be critical to a student's career success and long-term wellbeing.
Graduates who had such supportive relationships tend to be twice as likely than others to be engaged with their work and to be thriving in other areas of their life, a 2014 study by the Gallup-Purdue Index found. Further, students who believe they have professors who care about them are more than twice as likely to be confident about their ability to be successful in the job market, no matter which major they have. Yet few students strongly agree they have these types of connections.
Even among arts and humanities majors, only about one-third (35%) in the Strada-Gallup survey strongly agreed they have a mentor who encouraged them to go after their goals, compared with about one-fourth of students from other fields. However, more arts and humanities students strongly agreed they had a professor who cared about them (39%) or one that made them excited to learn (73%). That's compared with roughly one-fourth and one-half, respectively, of students in other majors who said the same.
Gallup researchers suspect these variations could exist because some disciplines such as communications, education and literature place a heavier emphasis on instructors having rapport with their students. Even so, there's progress to be made across the board.
College leaders can do their part to make it easier to for students to connect with professors outside of the classroom.
For instance, Denison University's president has been pushing for mentorship to be at the center of the college experience, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. To foster these relationships, freshmen take a one-credit, pass-fail course during their first semester that's led by their academic adviser. The program lets students talk about their experiences in a casual setting, helps them adjust to the university and pairs them with a professor at the very start of college.
Arts and humanities students at smaller institutions like Denison — which had fewer than 2,400 undergraduates in fall of 2017 — are more likely to form these types of relationships with faculty members, the report notes. At colleges with 5,000 or fewer students, 45% of students in these majors say they have a mentor, compared with 26% of those at universities with 20,000 or more students.
Those differences highlight the need for large universities to implement strategies to foster mentorships tailored to big campuses.
The University of California, San Diego piloted a mentor program in 2017 that paired first-generation students with peer and staff advisers. After seeing a boost in participants' grades and satisfaction, the university expanded the program to 400 more students the following year.
Some institutions are benefiting from putting pressure on each department to form these types of relationships with students, Gallup researcher Stephanie Marken told Education Dive. With this strategy, students can find mentors wherever they go, not just within the advising office.
But faculty members may not always place mentoring high on their to-do lists, Inside Higher Ed reported. This problem can be exacerbated at larger institutions where faculty and staff members are responsible for more students.
To improve their mentoring skills, Russell Olwell, an associate dean at Merrimack College, suggests faculty members visibly welcome students, focus conversations on their goals and involve them in research projects.
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