Do Faculty Subcultures Affect Campus Culture and Student Success?

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Student success and learning is a shared responsibility among members of the campus
community. It is too large and too complex to be the purview of one individual or group in postsecondary education. Student affairs/services (SAS) professionals and faculty must work together and understand one another. As Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh and Whitt and Associates (2010) explain:

to achieve a positive organizational culture that supports students as a by-product of a good educational experience, the commitment and effort of all members of the academic community are needed”.

However, it can often be quite difficult to make the time to learn about one another. Luckily, this is where the Supporting Student Success research team comes in. We’re going to share what we’ve recently learned about how faculty members perceive institutional retention and student success efforts on their campuses.

Our goal here is provide a space to discuss how to better support one another. As SAS professionals, we have an opportunity to lead and educate about programs and services, how collaborations work, and the importance of these initiatives for students. In order to do this, we must first understand faculty colleagues’ perspectives and the subcultures that influence these perspectives.

Campus Subcultures

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We know various subcultures exist within our institutions depending on the division/area one is working in, job title/position, and daily roles. The subculture(s) we belong to can influence how we make sense of events and actions (Kuh & Whitt, 1988). Kuh and Whitt (1988) note:

academics make up a complex set of subprofessions characterized by fragmentation and specialization”.

The notion of subprofessions, which may be viewed as subcultures, therefore inform this research. The influence that a subculture has on the behaviour of its members is facilitated by departmental and institutional contexts, mission/mandates, communication and leadership styles, and individuals’ experiences.

Subcultures exist for both SAS professionals and faculty members. For faculty members, this typically comes in the form of one’s rank, years employed, broad disciplinary area, and responsibilities. As such, we are interested in how faculty at various academic ranks (tenured/promoted, promotional, and non-promotional) differ in their perceptions of retention and student success. Although past research has examined campus culture and student success broadly, limited empirical research has been conducted on to what extent faculty members’ perceptions of campus culture and institutional retention efforts differ by academic rank.

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Our findings are based on survey data that was collected at twenty-four postsecondary institutions (seven community colleges and seventeen universities); respondents include both faculty and SAS professionals. Our initial analyses explored the relationship between faculty and staff members’ awareness and engagement with programs and services designed to support retention and student success. This post looks specifically at the faculty sample by academic rank.

Our sample consisted of 977 faculty (full- and part-time) who taught undergraduate students in the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 academic years. The breakdown below shows the composition of the sample we analyzed by rank, years employed, and broad disciplinary area.

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For our first set of analyses, a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to compare composite measures by faculty rank. Seven different outcome/composite measures were examined (three at the departmental level and four at the institutional level). Composite measures include the following:

  • Conveying to students that they can succeed and facilitating involvement,
  • Setting goals and objectives to helping students succeed,
  • Dedicating leadership and resources to promoting retention objectives, and
  • Relaying information about academic and personal support services.

These measures are crafted from individual survey items, for which respondents indicated the extent to which they agree or disagree based on declarative statements using a Likert scale. Respondents were required to answer 60% of the questions that made up each composite to be given a score for that outcome.

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At the departmental level, the analysis revealed:

  • Tenured/Promoted (3.73) faculty have more positive perceptions of the degree to which their division conveys to students that they can succeed and facilitates involvement than Non-Promotional (3.55) (p<.05).

At the institutional level, the analysis revealed:

  • Promotional (3.05) faculty have more positive perceptions of leadership and resources dedicated to promoting retention objectives than Tenured/Promoted (2.85) (p<.05).
  • Tenured/Promoted (3.37) faculty have more positive perceptions of their institution’s efforts to relay information about academic and personal support services than Non-Promotional (3.13) (p<.01).

For our second set of analyses, we used block regression to examine how differences in the composite measures by academic rank may be explained by other potential explanations, like years employed, broad disciplinary area, respondents’ awareness of student support programs and services, and engagement with these programs and services in inter-divisional partnerships. This approach essentially entails adding different blocks of variables into a regression sequentially to see how the inclusion of those independent variables matter in explaining the dependent variable (the departmental and institutional composites), and how they impact the estimates of the other independent variables.

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The analyses revealed several informative findings that can be used to modify policy and practice:

  • Tenured/Promoted faculty appeared to have more positive perceptions of the degree to which their department and institution conveys to students that they can succeed and facilitates involvement than Non-Promotional faculty. Tenured/Promoted faculty also appeared to have more positive perceptions of their institution’s efforts to relay information about academic and personal support services than Non-Promotional faculty. However, both of these differences became insignificant once additional blocks/covariates were added.

There is an opportunity for SAS professionals to connect with those who are in Non-Promotional roles and ensure that in their short- or long-term positions at our institutions they possess an understanding of retention objectives and are encouraged to participate. With the number of Non-Promotional faculty members (sessionals, adjuncts, and lecturers) increasing on our campuses, we need a proactive approach to reaching these critical members of our institution’s instructional team.

  • Faculty employed 0-4 years were found to have more positive perceptions than those employed 11+ years across departmental and institutional success measures (conveying to students that they can succeed and facilitating involvement, setting goals and objectives to helping students succeed, and dedicating leadership and resources to promoting retention objectives). This finding remained in the presence of the additional blocks/covariates.

Working with these younger faculty members is crucial, as they will be leading our institutions in the future and have the energy to transform them. They can function as allies in bridging existing academic and student services silos. Inviting them to be a part of SAS programming, making ourselves known to their students, and increasing two-way communication is imperative. In addition, reaching out to senior faculty by drawing upon their experiences and history at our institutions is valuable. It is time to reinvigorate these individuals! At this stage in their careers, the majority of faculty will have achieved tenure and as such may have more time to sit on committees, champion initiatives, and throw their support behind new innovative ventures.

  • Arts and Humanities faculty were found to have more positive perceptions of the degree to which their department conveys to students that they can succeed and facilitates involvement than Social Sciences/Education and Health Sciences faculty. However, Engineering faculty were found to have more positive perceptions than Arts and Humanities across institutional success measures. These findings remained in the presence of the additional blocks/covariates.

Developing orientation workshops and outreach materials to be dispersed throughout the academic year with regard to the role of SAS and available programming across all departments/disciplines may assist with these inconsistencies.

  • Awareness measures (prior familiarity with and frequency of learning about student support programs and services) were found to have a strong positive effect on perceptions of success. However, this effect became weaker when we added actual use (frequency of referral to services, communication, and collaboration with divisions across campus) of programs and services into the regression model. While knowing about student support services is valuable, it appears that actually using or engaging with student support programs and services is what matters most in positively influencing faculty members’ perceptions of department and institution retention efforts.

SAS professionals’ encouragement of positive faculty interactions with services is therefore of key importance, as when faculty are involved their perceptions of retention and student success are improved.

What’s Next?

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We hope these findings are valuable and that we can continue this discussion in the future. Next steps for our research are to examine faculty members’ behaviour toward departmental and institutional retention efforts beyond perceptions.

Written by:

Christine Arnold (@ChristineA_MUN)

Kathleen Moore (@Kathleenmoore_)

 

 

 

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