Differences of students' satisfaction with college professors: the impact of student gender on satisfaction.
This study examines whether the student's gender impacts his or her perceptions of the classroom experience. Student satisfaction with a class, and ultimately a university, are influenced by relationships with instructors, as well as success in the classroom. It is conceivable that if student and/ or instructor gender affects student satisfaction levels, that these expectations could carry over into the workforce. This study seeks to identify commonalities among genders, and recognizes that some factors related to satisfaction with a professor can be controlled and some cannot.

Article Type:
Sex differences (Psychology) (Research)
College teachers (Evaluation)
Teacher-student relationships (Research)
Maceli, Kristen M.
Fogliasso, Christine E.
Baack, Donald
Pub Date:
Name: Academy of Educational Leadership Journal Publisher: The DreamCatchers Group, LLC Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 The DreamCatchers Group, LLC ISSN: 1095-6328
Date: Dec, 2011 Source Volume: 15 Source Issue: 4
Event Code: 310 Science & research
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number:
Full Text:

Students in university settings have many varied expectations of professors. At the very least, they expect for them to be competent in an area of expertise and that the will provide engaging and helpful experience that assists students in achieving their goals.

Trends in the workforce are often reflected in academic trends. More women attend college now then in past years, and more women are part of the workforce. In academics, however, male professors greatly outnumber female professors. "The number of professors per 10,000 adults in the United States--what we might call the academic intellectual ratio--has increased dramatically in this century... By and large this dramatic growth in the number and proportion of academic intellectuals has been a male phenomenon. Male professors have outnumbered female professors by about three to one since the turn of the century" (Anderson, p.35).

Gender affects the ways in which students learn as well as their needs in the classroom environment (James, In press). In general females tend to be more verbal, while males respond more to visual stimulation. Females seem to have a keener sense of reading body language, while males have more of a need for activity (James, In press). Females have traditionally been expected to speak in ways different than males, more "lady-like" (Lakoff, 1975). As such, a female instructor may have preconceived notions of how she should sound and act; this could be affected by her age, as societal expectations have changed. Her students may have expectations as well. A male instructor may not feel these same constraints. These factors could contribute to how an instructor presents information, and ultimately, how it is received.

Further, gender differences could affect how students potentially learn and thrive in a classroom environment, and even what could potentially cause the reverse. Future success is often related to satisfaction with a classroom experience. Therefore, it is conceivable that a classroom environment could be effects by differences gender. What helps one gender may not help the other, and vice versa.

This study seeks to determine how gender differences can affect classroom experiences. In particular, it examines the relationship between student gender and subsequent satisfaction with the instructor, by accounting for the professor's gender. It is possible that students will be more satisfied with instructors of their gender. Additional attention is given to with regard to respect issues, or the degree to which professors are respected by students. It is suggested that students will favor male instructors. Age will also be considered as a control variable.

Based on past literature, the following issues are addressed:

1. Do males experience courses differently than females?

2. When taking into account control issues, such as instructor age, if the student wants to be attending college, and the students' major, is student satisfaction affected?

3. Does gender identification (students and instructors having the same gender) affect student satisfaction--are students more satisfied by instructors of their gender?

4. Do classroom respect issues, such as knowing a professor's tile and following classroom policies, and the manner in which a course is presented by the instructor, affect student satisfaction?

The above issues are important because student satisfaction with instruction can impact their learning. Improved student involvement and satisfaction can lead to improved learning. Ultimately, gender identification issues could also carry over into the workforce, and be especially germane to new employee and manager training. "Sixty-one million women directly influence the American workforce today; gay and lesbian rights fill legislative proposals; and social conditions constantly shift expectations and circumstances between the sexes" (Florence and Fortson, p. 5).

This paper begins with a literature review regarding teaching performance, satisfaction with teaching and the effects of gender on perceptions of those variables. Basic hypotheses are offered. Next, the design of this study will be described. The findings are then analyzed and preliminary conclusions are drawn.


Evaluating teaching performance is difficult and subjective. More often than not, students are responsible for the evaluation process, which leaves much potential for debate regarding validity and reliability. While many in academe have differing opinions about the process and use of evaluations, most would not argue that it should be abandoned. Even though reasons for evaluations include to improve performance and evaluation for personnel decisions, the ultimate goal is to guide students (Seldin, p.4-6). Perhaps it is the affect that instructors have students that make the evaluations so important yet controversial. Performance evaluations are necessary in all organizations, not just academic, but it is in academic institutions that the impact of the performance being evaluated can sometimes have greater exponential effects.

Students in university settings have numerous and varied expectations of professors. Although the traditional triad of professorial duties includes teaching, research, and service, students are often aware of only the teaching element. That is the part of a professor's day which students see and constitutes the part that most directly affects them. Today's economic climate has resulted in financial difficulties for many, including those whose goal is to achieve a college degree. Tuition costs are continuing to arise, and (by and large) students' ability to pay those costs is being challenged as never before. And with those rising costs of attending college come rising expectations from the consumers of the service (i.e., students).

Students expect professors to have teaching expertise. They expect teachers to possess superior communication skills and the ability to artfully engage students in the learning process. Many today's students have spent untold hours in front of computer screens, television sets, and in movie theaters. Those situations are environment in which participants take a primarily passive role, waiting for the medium in which they are participating to engage them and draw them in to the experience. To a great extent student expectations are similar with regard to the education experience and its providers--teachers. Student satisfaction with a class, and ultimately a university, is impacted not only by success in the class, but also by relationships with instructors.

At the same time, although effective teaching is acknowledged as important, it is not an easy concept to measure--in fact, individuals often differ as to whether or not they regard a particular teacher to be a "good" educator. One may be reminded of the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 US 184 (1964). When discussing the difficulty of defining obscenity, he wrote that, although he could "never succeed in intelligibly" defining it, nevertheless concluded "But I know it when I see it." No objective method for measuring teaching performance exists (Berk, p. 4). Given this difficulty in measuring teaching, it is no surprise that few issues in higher education spark as much heat as the evaluation of faculty performance. Everyone in academe seems to have an opinion--often biased by personal experiences--but few claim the necessary detachment for an in-depth understanding of the subject (Seldin, p. vi).

Even in situations where consensus that a particular professor is perceived to be a "good teacher," little agreement about why that is the case may be discovered. Some have suggested that the grade which students expect to receive in the class plays into student evaluations of instructors (Marsh, p 30). Another possibility is that student gender differences affect how they react to the classroom environment, and therefore evaluations of professors (James, in press). Student perceptions that a class is or is not difficult can also affect perceptions of the teacher's effectiveness (Marsh, p. 27). A student's interest, or lack thereof, in the course's subject matter can also influence evaluations of the instructor. Course satisfaction is a critical component in improving learning achievement in the traditional classroom and the distance education environment (Chang and Smith, p. 412).

As noted above, students' expectations, with regard to both the grade expected and also course satisfaction, are important. The maxim that posits "expecting success leads to success" may be at least partially true.

In a recent study, the researchers discovered that if women were not confounded by gender roles, their own expectations for success changed. In the study, women formed study groups and felt more confident about their place in mathematics courses. Overall, when this comfortable environment was created, "Women could be themselves and not feel oppressed by gender roles and expectations" (Steele, Levin, Blecksmith, Shahverdian, p.31).

Even though women viewed themselves differently and more confidently, preconceived notions of their families and friends were more difficult to change. "The findings relating to friends and families did have sobering implications. Families in particular saw their successful daughters as either 'geniuses' or aberrations. The underlying preconception that women are uncommon in higher level mathematics remained undisturbed. They continually needed to explain themselves to female and male peers, the major difference being that with their explanations they grew in self-confidence. If those who recognized the young women's abilities expressed their pride by calling them 'geniuses,' those who did not understand their work also alluded to their mental capacities, considering them 'crazy' or 'weird.' Such comments underscore the way in which the public remains incapable of considering women's success in mathematics as ordinary or normal" (Steele, et. al, p.31).

Many studies have been undertaken to identify the effectiveness of on-line learning. In that environment, the student becomes more dependent on the instructor, as they do not have classmates and the social environment of a classroom. Moore (2002) stated that social interactions prompted by the instructor and prompt instructor feedback were both linked to student satisfaction with the course. The most significant contributor to perceived learning in these online courses was the interaction between the instructor and the students. Students reported that the higher level of interaction with the instructor or classmates led to higher levels of learning in the course" (Chang and Smith, p.409).

"Course satisfaction is a critical component in improving learning achievement in the traditional classroom and the distance education environment" (Chang and Smith, p.412).

Gender differences are apparent in the types and frequency of on-line interactions in computer-mediated discussions. As these types of discussion have become an integral part of teaching in colleges and universities, as an opportunity emerges to promote a somewhat anonymous form of discussion--without regard to gender, race, class, and other socially constructed categories. Many educators believe this form of communication might become an equalizer to those who feel as though they have been "marginalized" by normal classroom settings (Fauske and Wade, 2003-2004). Theoretically, all students can be heard or hold the floor as long as they wish. Recent research indicates significant differences among discussions of men and women. "... men's postings tended to be lengthy and frequent, characterized by strong assertions, authoritativeness, distancing, self-promotion, and in some instances flaming--that is criticism, ridicule, and put-downs" (Fauseke and Wade, p.138).

Gender cannot be changed; however, classroom environments can. As such, it is conceivable, that with proper feedback, professors can improve performance and ultimately improve the learning environment for the students. "It is held that the feedback from a range of evaluations can produce in a teacher the kind of dissonance or dissatisfaction that sets the psychological stage for change" (Seldin, p.4).

Based on this review of the literature, the following hypotheses are offered:

Hypothesis 1: There are differences between student genders as to how satisfied they will be with an instructor.

Hypothesis 2: Student and instructor gender as well as classroom respect issues can impact student satisfaction levels with instructors.


The sample included 328 students from a mid-western university with an annual enrollment of approximately 7,900. Surveys were administered in the college of business, with 190 students (58.1%) reporting themselves as business majors and 137 (41.9%) reporting themselves as non-business majors. Ninety-two percent of the students reported that they were of junior or senior status. The sample included 194 males (59.1%) and 134 (40.9%) females.

The study sought to determine whether student or instructor gender and classroom respect issues affected student satisfaction with instructors. Two male and two female instructors gathered data. One male and one female were approximately the same age, and the other male and female instructors were approximately the same age. Approximately 10 years separated the ages of the sets of instructors. The younger professors were both Assistant Professors, while the older professors had attained the rank of University Professor. The older female professor has won numerous "Teacher of the Year Awards". As such, it was noted that her student evaluations could possibly skew the results.

Variables for the study included student gender, instructor gender, instructor age, whether or not the student was attending college because they wanted to, student major, gender match of student and instructor, the student's satisfaction with course presentation, whether the student followed classroom policies regarding cell phone use, and whether the student knew the instructor's title.

A reliability of scale analysis was run to determine if the survey variables regarding satisfaction with the instructor--instructor demeanor, instructor knowledge, instructor's control of the classroom, and the instructor's encouragement of class participation--could be combined. The Cronbach's Alpha coefficient was .918. The Cronbach's Alpha coefficient's if items were deleted were .879 for instructor demeanor, .881 for instructor knowledge, .881 for instructor control of classroom, and .908 for instructor's encouragement of participation. Since all were lower than the combined, all remained in the study.

An independent sample t-test was initially run to determine if there were significant changes of instructor satisfaction based on student gender. Correlations were run to identify significant variables. Then, the data file was split by student gender and correlations for the data were obtained.

Hierarchical linear modeling was then used to determine the combined variable effects on student satisfaction. Student satisfaction was the dependent variable. Independent variables were presented in three steps. The first step included the control variables of instructor age, if the student was attending college because he or she wanted to, and major (business or non-business). Step two introduced gender match of instructor and student. Step three added the variables course presentation, whether the student follows classroom policies regarding cell phone use, and whether the student knows the professor's professional title.


Hypothesis 1: There are differences between student genders as to how satisfied they are with an instructor.

An initial t-test was run to determine if gender had any significance to student ratings of satisfaction with their instructors. Both genders were on the high end of satisfaction scale. Standard deviation for the males was .518, while standard deviation for the females was .850.

The t-tests revealed significant differences at p<.05 level (p=.007). Students had rated instructors on a scale of one to five, with one being the highest rating for satisfaction. Male student satisfaction had a mean of 1.33, while females had a mean of 1.55. Although a large difference among means was not present the analysis indicated that the difference was significant. Thus the first hypothesis was thus confirmed with mild support.


The combined gender data set produced the following correlation matrix:

Significant variables to satisfaction with instructor were:

Of note, course presentation had the strongest relationship to student satisfaction with instructors, with a Pearson coefficient of .735. As noted, males constituted a larger portion of the sample (59.1%). Consequently, the data set was then split and correlations obtained to identify any differences among gender when correlated to satisfaction with instructor. The correlation results include only student satisfaction with instructor compared to the independent variables.

Results of the male student correlations are as follows:

Correlations for female students indicated the following significant variables correlated to satisfaction with instructor:

These correlations indicate that course presentation and instructor gender were significant variables for both genders. Course presentation had the strongest relationship to satisfaction with instructor. Both genders reported higher satisfaction levels with female instructors; however, female non-business majors were more satisfied than business majors. This could be due to the fact that many non-business majors must take business courses as curriculum requirements. The classes may have exceeded their expectations. Other significant variables for females included knowing the instructor's title and major. Females tended not to know the instructor's title, though the correlation was significant. Again, these findings indicate differences in the reactions of male and female students to professors, as hypothesized.

Hypothesis 2: Student and instructor gender as well as classroom respect issues can impact student satisfaction levels with instructors.

A regression model was built using satisfaction with the instructor as the dependent variable and the independent variables of instructor age, students desire to attend college, major, gender match of instructor and student, course presentation, if the student follows cell phone policies, and if the student knows the title proper professional title of the instructor.

Hierarchical linear modeling was used to determine the combined variable effects on student satisfaction. Independent variables were presented in three steps. The first step included the control variables of instructor age, if the student was attending college because he or she wanted to, and major (business or non-business). Step two introduced gender identification (if student and instructor genders were the same). Then, step three added variables course presentation, whether the student follows classroom policies regarding cell phone use, and whether the student knows the professor's professional title.

Control Variables

Male satisfaction levels with their instructors were not impacted by the control variables of major, instructor age, and if they wanted to be in college or not. For females, these same variables were significant and explained 23% of the variance is satisfaction with the course. This suggests support for the first hypothesis, that males and females experience the classroom in different ways.

Gender Match

As shown, it was not a match of gender that predicted satisfaction with the course. Males tended to be more satisfied with female instructors. Females also preferred female professors. The popularity of the one female professor in part explains this finding.

Classroom Respect Issues

For both genders, classroom respect issues had a major impact on the amount of explained variance in satisfaction with the course and professor. Classroom respect issues had the largest impact on explained variance for both males and females.


The overriding conclusion of this study is that while gender does affect the classroom experience, instructors and the environment they create ultimately impact learning the most. Course presentation is something instructor's can control--gender is not. Gender matching is more relevant to females than males, but both male and female students are more influenced by classroom environment and respect issues. Instructor age was also more important to females, with younger professors tending to be given rated with higher satisfaction levels.

As a result, the findings suggest that professors are advised to set clear expectations in the classroom with regard to both course content and courtesy issues such as insisting students refrain from using a cell phone or texting during class time. Any penalties for violation of these policies should be routinely enforced.

The raw data for this research indicated that students were far more likely to know the title of a male professor. In simple terms, students knew that both the older and younger male professors were Ph.D.s and were to be addressed as "Doctor." Both the older and younger female professors did not enjoy the same level of respect. Students were inclined to refer to one as "Mrs." and the other by a nickname, even though both held the title of Doctor (one was a Ph.D. the other a JDD).

This implies that previous stereotypes and assumptions associated with gender may continue to exist. Consequently, it might be in the interests of a female professor to regularly point out her title, especially early in the semester. Conveying the sense of authority implied by a title such as Doctor encourages respect and may result in improved student decorum in the classroom and subsequent satisfaction with the course.

The limitations of this study include the small number of professors, even as the number of students in the sample was fairly large. The individual personalities and reputations of the various faculty members may have had some impact on the results.

For the future, additional efforts can be made to study how gender affects the classroom experience. In schools of business, such as the one in which this study was conducted, the ultimate goal goes beyond transmitting information to students. Expectations and re-socialization to effective work with either a male or female supervisor may be impacted by the classroom experience. As the culture moves to a more egalitarian structure, the hope would be that the effects of gender and gender match would continue to diminish.


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Fauske, Janice, and Wade, Suzanne E. "Research to Practice Online: Conditions that Foster Democracy, Community, and Critical Thinking in Computer-Mediated Discussions," Journal of Research on Technology in Education, Winter 2003-2004, Volume 36, Number 2.

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Marsh, Shelly Jo. (2000). The Impact of Gender on Instructor Evaluations: A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate School in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science, Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.

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Seldin, Peter (1980). Successful Faculty Evaluation Programs: A Practical Guide to Improve Faculty Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions, Coventry Press, Crugers, New York.

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Kristen M. Maceli, Pittsburg State University

Christine E. Fogliasso, Pittsburg State University

Donald Baack, Pittsburg State University
Pearson           Satisfac     Student     Instructor
correlation,        with        Gender        age
Sig. * p <.05    instructor

Satisfaction         1           .161         .274
with                            .003 *       .000 *

Student             .161          1           .114
gender             .003 *                    .040 *

Instructor          .274         .114          1
age                .000 *       .040 *         1

Want to be         -.009        -.138        -.019
at college          .870        .013 *        .735

Major               .116        -0.128       0.121
                   .036 *       .021 *       .029 *

Gender              .028        -0.324       0.055
match to            .617        .000 *       0.323

Course              .735         .064         .325
presentation       .000 *        .249        .000 *

Follow cell         .050        -0.046       0.065
phone               .367        0.407         0.24

Know                .149        0.053        0.295
instructor         .007 *       0.335        .000 *

Pearson             Want        Major        Gender
correlation,      to be at                  match to
Sig. * p <.05     college                  instructor

Satisfaction       -.009         .116         .028
with                .870        .036 *        .617

Student            -.138        -.128        -.324
gender             .013 *       .021 *       .000 *

Instructor         -.019         .121         .055
age                 .735         .029         .323

Want to be           1          -.127        -.047
at college                      .021 *        .399

Major              -.127          1           .107
                   .021 *                     .053

Gender             -.047         .107          1
match to            .399         .053

Course              .056         .147         .016
presentation        .316        .008 *        .779

Follow cell        -.004         .169         .041
phone               .937        .002 *        .455

Know               -.072         .211         .045
instructor          .192        .000 *        .418

Pearson            Course       Follow        Know
correlation,     presenta-       cell      instructor
Sig. * p <.05       tion        phone        title

Satisfaction        .735         .050         .149
with               .000 *        .367        .007 *

Student             .064        -.046         .053
gender              .249         .407         .335

Instructor          .325         .065         .295
age                .000 *        .240        .000 *

Want to be          .056        -.004        -.072
at college          .316         .937         .192

Major               .147         .169         .211
                   .008 *       .002 *       .000 *

Gender              .016         .041         .045
match to            .779         .455         .418

Course               1           .029         .144
presentation                     .602        .009 *

Follow cell         .029          1           .112
phone               .602                     .042 *

Know                .144         .112          1
instructor         .009 *       .042 *

Table 1. Significant variables to student satisfaction with instructor

Satisfaction with instructor   Pearson coefficient   p value (p < .05)
correlated to:

Student gender                        .161                 .003
Instructor gender                     .274                 .000
Major                                 .116                 .036
Course presentation                   .735                 .000
Know instructor's title               .149                 .007

Table 2. Male student significant correlations

Satisfaction with instructor   Pearson coefficient   p value (p < .05)
correlated to:

Course presentation                    .647                .000
Instructor gender                     -.458                .000
Gender match with instructor          -.458                .000

Table 3. Female student significant correlations

Satisfaction with instructor   Pearson coefficient   p value p < .05
correlated to:

Course presentation                   .817                .000
Know instructor's title               .318                .000
Major (Business/non-business          .246                .004
Instructor gender                     -.554               .000
Gender match with instructor          -.554               .000
Instructor age                        .467                .000

Table 4.
Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting
Student Satisfaction with Instructors

          Variables                      Sig.    F Change   R Square

MALES     -Major
Step 1    -Instructor age                .272     1.313       .020
          -Wanted to be in college

Step 2    Gender match                  .000 *    14.295      .233

Step 3    -Follow cell phone policies
          -Know instructor title        .000 *    26.478      .500
          -Course presentation

FEMALES   -Major
Step 1    -Instructor age               .000 *    13.389      .236
          -Wanted to be in college

Step 2    Gender match                  .000 *    32.011      .498

Step 3    -Follow cell phone policies
          -Know instructor title        .000 *    55.734      .756
          -Course presentation

          Variables                     R Square   Significant
                                         change     F Change

MALES     -Major
Step 1    -Instructor age                 .020        .272
          -Wanted to be in college

Step 2    Gender match                    .213       .000 *

Step 3    -Follow cell phone policies
          -Know instructor title          .267       .000 *
          -Course presentation

FEMALES   -Major
Step 1    -Instructor age                 .236       .000 *
          -Wanted to be in college

Step 2    Gender match                    .262       .000 *

Step 3    -Follow cell phone policies
          -Know instructor title          .258       .000 *
          -Course presentation
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