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Chapter 4 : Looking Deeper - Are quality of interactions important in the evaluation of college life among first year’s?


First year’s perspective on their quality of interactions and how it relates to their assessment of their institution and whether they have considered withdrawing 2020 - First Year Experience

This chapter examines the reported experiences of first year undergraduate students at their institution. We analyse how they viewed the quality of their interactions on campus, with academic and PMS (professional, managerial and support) staff and with fellow students, how they evaluated their experience at their institution, and whether they considered withdrawal from their programme. We then examine whether there is a link between their interactions and their evaluation.

Students in their first year post-second level are engaged in a transformed personal environment, with transformative opportunities. For the institution,it is a challenge to integrate new students into university and academic life[3] and students are at the highest risk of dropping out of course in the first year[4].

There are many reasons why students do not progress past first year. Some of these, such as socio-demographic background[5] and prior academic performance[6] are well understood. Differences in gender, age, institute type and field of study are associated with different outcomes in non-progression in Higher Education in Ireland[7] [8]

Students laughing

More limited evidence available about student’s own interactions and experience and how this may influence their Higher Education outcomes. A review by Pascarella (1980)[9] discussed the role of formal and informal contact with faculty on student outcomes.

Some subsequent studies have found that faculty-student interactions (formal and informal) are associated with overall student satisfaction[10] [11] and student learning[12], while in a review of literature of first year experience, Delaney (2008) [13] found a strong association between student-faculty interaction and a range of outcomes including academic achievement, development, and retention. However, she notes some studies found prior academic achievement and academic integration had a larger influence than interactions, while interactions themselves may be at least partly the result of such preceding factors. Pascarella and Terenzini (1979)[14] found that faculty interactions had a stronger positive effect on student retention among students most at risk of dropping out.

Other studies have found that indicators of student satisfaction are associated with student persistence and academic success[15] [16] [17] [18]. Tinto (1975) [19], in his foundational research, discusses the role of the individual student’s integration and interaction within their institution and the likelihood of dropping out of the institution.

The objective of this analysis is to contribute to and inform policy on student success.

Staff and SU representatives from NCI at the launch of the National Report 2019

One of several key understandings of for student success is progression through their chosen programme, or using their experience of Higher Education to refine their programme choice. While this is insufficient to capture whether, and to what degree, students are flourishing at Higher Education, it provides the background through which other factors can be considered. In examining non-progression of students, many studies use secondary analysis of administrative data. This is typically a highly representative source of data, with a large proportion of respondents relative to the total target population.

However, this method does not always distinguish between students who drop out of Higher Education completely (system departure) from those who may change institution, change degree type, or take time out from their degree (institution departure). Tinto (1993) [20] attributes some of the contradictory findings in the study of student dropout to a failure to distinguish different types of exit.

One of the measures used in this study is whether a student has seriously considered withdrawal. The measure captures the student’s own prospective intentions and their contemporaneous beliefs about their continuation in their programme. As such it is both a valuable individual-level measure and distinct from the retrospective reporting of non-progression at institution level. While we do not know the relationship between serious consideration of withdrawal and actual withdrawal, we might expect that these two measures would be strongly related.

We also look at responses to two other measures:

(1) how would you evaluate your educational experience at the institution, and

(2) would you attend the same institution if you could start over?

The former focusses exclusively on the student’s subjective view of their institution but does not parse between the different dimensions of their experience of the institution, which may range from highly formal (lectures, exams etc.) to the more informal (friendships, social life, sports or society activities and so on).

The second question is partly an evaluation of their institutional experience also, but there may be factors extraneous to the institution that the respondent may weigh in answering this. For example, changing financial circumstances may act to dissuade a respondent from saying they would do the same again, independent of their evaluation of the institution. However, we might expect there to be an association between the two measures. 

Taken together, the three measures provide a multidimensional understanding of a student’s evaluation of their first year at their chosen institution and offer some insight into their formal and informal interactions at the institution as a component of this.

[3] Barefoot, B. O. (2005). ‘Current institutional practices in the first college year’ Challenging and supporting the first-year student: A handbook for improving the first year of college: 47-63.

[4] Authority, H. E. (2019). An Analysis of Completion in Irish Higher Education: 2007/08 Entrants.

[5] Behr, A., et al. (2020). ‘Dropping out of university: a literature review.’ Review of Education 8(2): 614-652.

[6] Reason, R. D. (2009). ‘Student Variables that Predict Retention: Recent Research and New Developments.’ NASPA Journal 46(3): 482-501.

[7] McCoy, S. and D. Byrne (2017). ‘Student retention in higher education.’ Economic insights on higher education policy in Ireland: Evidence from a public system: 111-141.

[8] Authority, H. E. (2022). ‘An Analysis of Non-Progression Rates in Irish Higher Education Institutions – Overview and Key Findings.’ Available from

[9] Pascarella, E. T. (1980). ‘Student-faculty informal contact and college outcomes.’ Review of educational research 50(4): 545-595.

[10] Fredericksen, E., et al. (1999). ‘Student satisfaction and perceived learning with online courses-principles and examples from the SUNY learning network.’

[11] Aldemir, C. and Y. Gülcan (2004). ‘Student satisfaction in higher education: A Turkish case.’ Higher education management and policy 16(2): 109-122.

[12] Lundberg, C. A. and L. A. Schreiner (2004). ‘Quality and frequency of faculty-student interaction as predictors of learning: An analysis by student race/ethnicity.’ Journal of College student development 45(5): 549-565.

[13] Delaney, A. M. (2008). ‘Why faculty-student interaction matters in the first year experience.’ Tertiary Education and Management 14: 227-241.

[14] Pascarella, E. T. and P. T. Terenzini (1979). ‘Student-faculty informal contact and college persistence: A further investigation.’ The Journal of Educational Research 72(4): 214-218.

[15] Aldridge, S. and J. Rowley (1998). ‘Measuring customer satisfaction in higher education.’ Quality assurance in education 6(4): 197-204.

[16] Duque, L. C. (2014). ‘A framework for analysing higher education performance: students' satisfaction, perceived learning outcomes, and dropout intentions.’ Total quality management & business excellence 25(1-2): 1-21.

[17] Mihanović, Z., et al. (2016). ‘The link between students’ satisfaction with faculty, overall students’ satisfaction with student life and student performance .’ Review of Innovation and Competitiveness: A Journal of Economic and Social Research 2(1): 37-60.

[18] Nastasić, A., et al. (2019). ‘Student satisfaction as a performance indicator of higher education institution.’ Mednarodno inovativno poslovanje= Journal of Innovative Business and Management 11(2): 67-76.

[19] Tinto, V. (1975). ‘Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research.’ Review of educational research 45(1): 89-125.

[20] Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving College.(2nd Edn.) Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press.