Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology and Research

Major Professor

John M. Peters

Committee Members

Norma T. Mertz, Ralph G. Brockett, Trena Paulus, John M. Peters


Higher education institutions continue to seek high impact retention methods to address student attrition, particularly during the first year of college. First-year studies courses represent a major institutional intervention and retention resource designed to help higher education institutions meet the unique academic and social needs of students transitioning from high school to college. Teacher-student engagement is considered to be an essential part of student retention efforts. However, most of the research on teacher-student engagement has focused on pedagogical strategies and the teachers’ perspectives of engagement. What is lacking in the literature are studies of students’ perspectives of classroom engagement. This study sought to discover what students find most meaningful during teacher-student engagement in the first-year studies course.

I employed one-on-one semi-structured interviews as the primary source of data. Interviews were held with eight students enrolled in first year studies courses taught by five instructors ranked in the top 10% of all first year studies courses offered by a Research One university. (Rankings were determined by overall course scores on a university-wide faculty evaluation instrument.) Results revealed three themes in what students reported as meaningful in their first year studies experiences: (1) teacher-student rapport, (2) course facilitation, and (3) student-to-student interaction inside and outside of the classroom.

Implications include the need for multi-site studies and replications of this single-site study on other campuses. Recommendations for practice focused on institutional policy making, teaching strategies, and decision making by higher education administrators concerned to improve student retention at their respective higher education institutions.

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