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Simple Things Faculty Can Do To Improve Student Success

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Written by
Cassandre Alvarado, Ph.D., Executive Director of Student Success and Assistant Professor of Practice in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin

Many of my fellow blog authors have written about engaging faculty in student success work, with great success (see: Dan Cavanagh’s post titled Academic Work-Out: Bridging Silos in Student Success Work and Jessica Murphy’s post titled Including Faculty in University-Wide Student Success Initiatives). In today’s edition, I offer a radical suggestion for something simple that faculty can do to improve student success: learn your students’ names.

That’s right – learning and using your students’ names improves persistence and graduation.  

Data from our own institutions affirms this: in a recent analysis of data from the 2017 SERU (Student Experience in the Research University) survey at The University of Texas at Austin, for each unit increase in “I have a professor that knows my name,” a student’s odds of probation/dismissal decreased 15.1%. Most importantly, having more than one faculty member who knew their name was statistically significant for first-generation students and Asian students in predicting on-time graduation.

The science behind how knowing students’ names improves student success relates to the power of sense of belonging. When someone knows you by name, and calls you by name, you are more likely to feel that you belong. And feeling like you belong has important implications for student success. There is a strong body of literature around the importance of sense of belonging. Students who report a stronger sense of belonging are more committed to their institutions, are more likely to be retained, and are more likely to persist to graduation (Hausmann et al., 2007; Morrow & Ackermann, 2012; O’Keeffe, 2013; Soria & Stubble, 2015; Bollen & Hoyle, 1990; Hurtado & Carter, 1997). At UT Austin in the SERU (2017) survey mentioned above, for every unit increase in student self-report to the question “I feel like I belong,” a student’s odds of leaving the university without a degree decreased 22.2%.

The effects of feeling like you are known by your faculty carry well beyond graduation from our institutions. In a recent UT Austin alumni survey conducted by the Gallup Organization (2017), respondents were asked to rate their thriving in well-being (that is, having a purpose, and feeling well in the domains of social, financial, community and physical). One undergraduate experience strongly relates to the likelihood of alumni thriving in more well-being elements: having had a professor who cared about them as a person.

The feeling of being known, of being seen, matters immensely to us as human beings. And each of us has experienced the joy of having been recognized by name, especially when we least expected it. Here’s a call to action for faculty around the UT System and around the country – learn and use your students’ names in class. When you do, you improve the likelihood that your students will be successful.