Higher Education

, Volume 75, Issue 1, pp 167–185 | Cite as

Why lecturers still matter: the impact of lecturer-student exchange on student engagement and intention to leave university prematurely

  • Ben Farr-WhartonEmail author
  • Michael B. Charles
  • Robyn Keast
  • Geoff Woolcott
  • Daniel Chamberlain


This research examines the impact of lecturer-student exchange (student-LMX) on engagement, course satisfaction, achievement, and intention to leave university prematurely for 363 students in one Australian university. Survey and grade point average (GPA) data were collected from domestic undergraduate first- and second-year students and analysed using structural equation modelling. The results indicated that student’s levels of engagement and course satisfaction fully mediated the relationship between student-LMX and intention to leave university, when demographic and socio-economic factors were controlled for. In an era when low student engagement and attrition is often attributed to individual demographic factors, and lecturers are under increasing threat of being replaced by technology, this research offers compelling evidence regarding the role of lecturer-student relationships in enhancing tertiary student outcomes.


Retention Student-centred learning Lecturers Achievement Engagement Student-LMX 


  1. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research-conceptual, strategic and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 1173–1182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, T. E. (2005). Potential problems in the statistical control of variables in organizational research: a qualitative analysis with recommendations. Organisational Research Methods, 8(3), 274–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brunetto, Y., Xerri, M., Shriberg, A., Farr-Wharton, R., Shacklock, K., Newman, S., & Dienger, J. (2013). The impact of workplace relationships on engagement, well-being, commitment and turnover for nurses in Australia and the USA. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 69(12), 2786–2799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cammann, C., Fichman, M., Jenkins, G. D., & Kelsh, J. R. (1983). Assessing the attitudes and perceptions of organizational members. In S. E. Seashore, E. E. Lawler, P. Mirvis, & C. Cammann (Eds.), Assessing organizational change (pp. 71–138). New York: John Wiley and Sons.Google Scholar
  5. Cascio, W. (2012). Methodological issues in international HR management research. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 23(12), 2532–2545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Christie, H., Munro, M., & Fisher, T. (2004). Leaving university early: exploring the differences between continuing and non-continuing students. Studies in Higher Education, 29(5), 617–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cropanzano, R., & Mitchell, M. S. (2005). Social exchange theory: an interdisciplinary review. Journal of Management, 31(December), 874–900.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Edwards, D., & McMillan, J. (2015). Completing university in a growing sector: is equity an issue? Joining the Dots Research Briefing Series, 3(2), 1–12.Google Scholar
  9. Elliott, K. M., & Shin, D. (2002). Student satisfaction: an alternative approach to assessing this important concept. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 24(2), 197–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Farr-Wharton, B., Brown, K., Keast, R., & Shymko, Y. (2015). Reducing creative labour precarity: more than network structure. Management Decision, 53(4), 857–875.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Forsman, J., Linder, C., Moll, R., Fraser, D., & Andersson, S. (2014). A new approach to modelling student retention through an application of complexity thinking. Studies in Higher Education, 39(1), 68–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. George, D., & Mallery, M. (2010). SPSS for windows step by step: a simple guide and reference, 17.0 update. Boston: Pearson.Google Scholar
  13. Graen, G. B., & Uhl-Bien, M. (1995). Relationship-based approach to leadership: development of leader-member exchange (LMX) theory of leadership over 25 years: applying multi-level, multi-domain perspective. Leadership Quarterly, 6(2), 219–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hair, J. F., Black, W. C., Babin, B. J., & Anderson, R. E. (2010). Multivariate data anlaysis: a global perspective. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  15. Hinkin, T. (1998). A Brief Tutorial on the Development of Measures for Use in Survey Questionnaires. Organizational Research Methods 1(1), 104–120.Google Scholar
  16. Jacques, P. H., Garger, J., Thomas, M., & Vracheva, V. (2012). Effects of early leader-member exchange perceptions on academic outcomes. Learning Environment Research, 15(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jamelske, E. (2009). Measuring the impact of a university first-year experience program on student GPA and retention. Higher Education, 57, 373–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jordan, P., & Troth, A. (2011). Emotional intelligence and leader member exchange: the relationship with employee turnover intentions and job satisfaction. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 32(3), 260–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Krishen, A. (2013). Catch it if you can: how contagious motivation improves group projects and course satisfaction. Journal of Marketing Education, 35(3), 220–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mosley, C., Broyles, T., and Kaufman, E. (2014). Leader-member Exchange, Cognitive Style, and Student Achievement. Journal of Leadership Education(summer), 13(3), 50–69.
  21. OECD. (2013). Education at a glance 2013. OECD Publishing.
  22. Paechter, M., Maier, B., & Macher, D. (2010). Students’ expectations of, and experiences in e-learning: their relation to learning achievements and course satisfaction. Computers & Education, 54, 222–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Richardson, J., Slater, J., & Wilson, J. (2007). The national student survey: development, findings and implications. Studies in Higher Education, 32(5), 557–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Richardson, H. A., Simmering, M. J., & Sturman, M. C. (2009). A tale of three perspectives: examining post hoc statistical techniques for detencion and correction of common method variance. Organizational Research Methods, 12(4), 762–800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sanchez, R. J., Bauer, T., & Paronta, M. E. (2006). Peer-mentoring freshmen: implications for satisfaction, commitment, and retention to graduation. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5(1), 25–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Schaufeli, W., Martinez, I., Marques Pinto, A., Salanova, M., & Bakker, A. B. (2002). Burnout and engagement in university students: a cross-national study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 33(5), 464–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Schneider, M. (2010). Finishing the first lap: the cost of first-year student attrition in America’s four-year colleges and universities. Washington DC: American Institutes for Research.Google Scholar
  28. Scott, D. (2005). Retention, completion and progression in tertiary education in New Zealand. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 27(1), 3–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Scott, D. (2009). A closer look at completion in higher education in New Zealand. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 31(2), 101–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sevier, R. (1996). Those important things: what every college president needs to know about marketing and student recruiting. College & University, 71(4), 9–16.Google Scholar
  31. Shrout, P. E., & Bolger, N. (2002). Mediation in experimental and nonexperimental studies: new procedures and recommendations. Psychological Methods, 7, 422–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Simpson, O. (2013). Student retention in distance education: are we failing our students? Open Learning, 28(2), 105–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sjoberg, A., & Sverke, A. (2000). The interactive effect of job involvement and organizational commitment on turnover revisited: a note on the mediating role of turnover intention. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 41(2), 247–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Taylor, J., & Bedford, T. (2004). Staff perceptions of factors related to non-completion in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 29(3), 375–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tett, R., & Meyer, R. (1993). Job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intention, and turnover: path analyses based on meta-analytic findings. Personnel Psychology, 46(2), 259–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Vaira, M. (2004). Globalization and higher education organizational change: a framework for analysis. Higher Education, 48(3), 483–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wayne, S., Shore, L. M., & Linden, R. (1997). Perceived organisational support and leader exchange: a social exchange perspective. Academy of Management Journal, 40(1), 82–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wilcox, P., Winn, S., & Fyvie-Gauld, M. (2005). It was nothing to do with the university, it was just the people': the role of social support in the first-year experience of higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 30(6), 707–722.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Willcoxson, L., Cotter, J., & Joy, S. (2011). Beyond first-year experience: the impact on attrition of student experiences through undergraduate degree studies in six diverse universities. Studies in Higher Education, 36(3), 331–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Yorke, M., & Thomas, L. (2003). Improving the retention of students from lower socio-economic groups. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 25(1), 63–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Zepke, N., Leach, L., & Prebble, T. (2006). Being learner centred: one way to improve student retention? Studies in Higher Education, 31(5), 587–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ben Farr-Wharton
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael B. Charles
    • 2
  • Robyn Keast
    • 2
  • Geoff Woolcott
    • 3
  • Daniel Chamberlain
    • 4
  1. 1.UTS Business SchoolUniversity of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.School of Business and TourismSouthern Cross UniversityBilingaAustralia
  3. 3.School of EducationSouthern Cross UniversityLismoreAustralia
  4. 4.School of Psychology and Public HealthLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations