Faculty have a large role to play in student success, but not just in the classroom.
Kathryn Boucher, associate professor of psychology at the University of Indianapolis, explores how to make students feel included.
Kathryn Boucher, PhD is an Associate Professor of Psychology and the Associate Director of the Strain Honors College at the University of Indianapolis, where her research focuses upon the factors that contribute to more supportive and inclusive classrooms and campuses. She is also a Principal Investigator on the Student Experience Project through the College Transition Collaborative, where she works to scale and disseminate insights from this research to other educators and institutions. Her work has been funded by the Raikes Foundation, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and the Lilly Endowment, and she is currently a Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project.
Faculty’s Key Role in Student Success
A growing evidence base demonstrates the critical importance of a sense of belonging, feeling your identities are valued, and believing that others think you can succeed in college. New research highlights the role that university instructors play in fostering these student experiences. In the Student Experience Project, STEM instructors across six U.S. universities incorporated classroom changes with equity, belonging, and growth in mind; they revised their syllabi and course policies, provided students with feedback signaling their beliefs in students’ potential, and worked to foster a classroom culture of care and inclusion.
Instructors also assessed students’ experiences in the course multiple times across the term. During the 2020-2021 academic year, over a hundred STEM instructors implemented these interventions in their classes, reaching over 10,000 college students. Across the network of instructors, we saw narrowing or closing of experience gaps between student groups who have been historically underserved or underrepresented in STEM, like women, BIPOC students, and lower income students, and those who have not.
When students’ experiences were linked to their academic outcomes, we found that faculty efforts to improve student experiences in the classroom were strongly associated with better grades: more students earning A’s or B’s, and fewer students receiving D, F, or W’s in their STEM courses. When comparing these academic outcomes to student performance in past terms of the same courses with the same instructors, DFW rates were reduced and AB rates increased. Although some equity gaps in academic outcomes persisted, this work shows that centering instruction upon students’ sense of belonging and growth potential has clear benefits for students and for institutions’ student success efforts.