Class and Race in The College Classroom: Faculty interactions and student learning among racially diverse poor and working-class collegians
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Class and Race in The College Classroom: Faculty interactions and student learning among racially diverse poor and working-class collegians


Over the last four decades, access to higher education for poor and working-class students has increased though social class disparities remain across many key higher education outcomes. To identify strategies and interventions that might support poor and working-class students, it is necessary to better understand the nature of poor and working-class college students’ experiences. The purpose of this study was to explore the role of student-faculty interaction—a practice that has been linked to positive social and academic outcomes in the literature for more than half a century—in the cognitive skills development of poor and working-class college students. Further, as existing literature commonly treats all poor and working-class students as a monolith, this study also sought to explore how the relationship between student-faculty interaction and students’ cognitive skills development was moderated by race. Using responses of poor and working-class students who participated in the 2018 administration of the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey distributed to 19 large public research institutions in the United States (N=30,689), this study first examined rates of different types of student-faculty interaction and how these frequencies differed by race/ethnicity, gender, and academic major. Then, drawing from college impact theories, Bourdieu’s forms of capital, and informed by critical race theories of education, this study used structural equation modeling to test the relationships between student background characteristics, student-faculty interaction, and students’ self-rated cognitive skills. Results indicated that there were gender, racial/ethnic, and academic major differences in the rates of interacting with faculty, but that interacting with faculty was positively associated with poor and working-class students’ self-rated cognitive skills regardless of race/ethnicity. Overall, these findings suggest the benefits and importance of interacting with faculty for poor and working-class students. However, the variation in the salient variables associated with more frequent student-faculty interaction points to key student populations (e.g., poor and working-class Women of Color, first-generation students, first and second-year students, first-time students) that student affairs practitioners and faculty might focus on as they seek to develop programs, initiatives, and opportunities for students to build relationships and networks of faculty.

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