Allison Buskirk-Cohen, Delaware Valley University – Succeeding in College

Campuses want college students to succeed.

Allison Buskirk-Cohen, associate professor of psychology at Delaware Valley University, looks at a couple factors that could swing the balance.

Allison Buskirk-Cohen’s research focuses on how interpersonal relationships influence general well-being and academic success. She has studied the role of peer relationships and mental health as students transitioned from elementary to middle school. Her recent work has examined factors underlying student success in higher education. She has considered the role of a learner-centered approach in the college classroom, and how professor-student relationships influence student success. Her research demonstrates how powerful the need to connect with others is, particularly within education

She holds a Ph.D. in human development with a specialization in developmental sciences from the University of Maryland. She completed a master’s degree in developmental psychology with a concentration in developmental psychopathology from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her bachelor’s degree in psychology, with an honors concentration in social psychology, was earned at Pennsylvania State University.

Dr. Buskirk-Cohen currently serves as the chair of the Psychology Department at Delaware Valley University, where she teaches in both the undergraduate counseling psychology program and the graduate counseling psychology program.

Succeeding in College


What matters for student success in college? Working with one of my undergraduate students at the time, Ms. Aria Plants, we tackled this question. American colleges and universities face problems with low retention and graduation rates. Better understanding of the factors that contribute to student success is incredibly important. While prior research has considered both systemic and individual factors, the research has been limited in terms of the population studied. Typically, research is conducted at large, public, research-oriented institutions, which may attract students with certain characteristics and have specific cultures that impact them.

In our study, we considered the role of one systemic factor (sense of belonging) and one individual factor (grit) in students’ academic success.

We surveyed forty-four undergraduate students at a small, teaching-focused institution. While this sample is small, it is relatively diverse in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, major, and academic status.

After completing their questionnaires, we classified students into one of four groups, based on the dimensions of academic performance and academic commitment. Our analyses revealed that low performing, low commitment students were significantly lower than all other groups on their sense of whether faculty members cared about them. Grit, social acceptance, and overall sense of belonging to the university were not differentiators.

Our results suggest that specific aspects of belonging may matter more (or differently) from other factors- at least for students at a small institution. The emphasis on perceptions of professors’ caring highlights the role faculty play in student success, yet there is still much to learn about exactly what behaviors are most appropriate and effective. It will be exciting to see how future research addresses these and other factors. Our research suggests a more personalized approach benefits students and institutions.

  1. Rob Rostoni
    • Allison Buskirk-Cohen