My Professor Cares: Experimental Evidence on the Role of Faculty Engagement

Scott E. Carrell, Michal Kurlaender

NBER Working Paper No. 27312
Issued in June 2020
NBER Program(s):Economics of Education, Labor Studies, Public Economics

Despite a growing body of literature that instructors “matter” in higher education, there is virtually no evidence about how their actions influence student outcomes. We provide experimental evidence on the impact of specific faculty behaviors aimed at increasing student success. We test the effect of professor feedback on student success in higher education classrooms though a "light-touch" randomized intervention. We present results from a small pilot in an introductory-level microeconomics course at a comprehensive research university, and the scale-up conducted in over 43 classrooms and nearly 4,000 students at a large broad-access university. The intervention consisted of several strategically-timed E-mails to students from the professor indicating keys to success in the class, the students’ current standing in the course, and a reminder of when the professor is available. Results from the pilot show that students in the treatment group scored higher on exams, homework assignments, and final course grade. Results from the scaled-up experiment are more mixed—we find significant positive effects on student perceptions of the professor and course for all students. However, we only find positive achievement effects for our target population, first year students from underrepresented minority groups. Finally, we replicated the pilot to test the robustness of these results and again find positive effects on student achievement. We conclude that in certain settings and with some students, targeted feedback from professors can lead to meaningful gains in achievement.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w27312

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