School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy


Lucinda Spaulding


Professor-Student Relationships, Tinto’s Integration Theory, College Undergraduates, Hermeneutic Phenomenology, Motivation, Persistence


Education | Educational Leadership | Higher Education


Undergraduate students leaving their chosen field of study due to a lack of positive relationships between faculty and students is increasing at an alarming rate. The purpose of this hermeneutic phenomenological study was to describe how undergraduate college students experience professor–student relationships and the influence of relationships on their motivation to persist in higher education. There is a significant amount of research examining the influence of relationships in the K–12 setting; however, research is lacking regarding the perceptions of college students and motivation to persist based on academic and social integration at the collegiate level. The theory guiding this study was Tinto’s integration theory which explains the academic and social integration of college students. Integration leads to a greater level of commitment to an institution and persistence to graduate. A qualitative research design with 10 purposefully selected participants from each level of undergraduate students, and a focus particularly on seniors and recent graduates, were chosen to unfold this phenomenon. The central research question of this study asked, “What are the lived experiences of undergraduate college students pertaining to student–faculty relationships and the perceived influence on motivation to persist?” Findings from the study demonstrated that professors who are caring, approachable, and passionate have a positive influence on each student’s motivation to persist. Professors who exhibit these characteristics and focus on the individuality of each student enable them to become academically and socially integrated into the college setting. Also, class size, personality, and the type of learner relating to motivation have a substantial impact on student integration.