Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Brian K. Warnick


Brian K. Warnick


Steven O. Laing


Susan A. Turner


Michael K. Freeman


Jeffrey P. Dew


When students are asked about their motivation to succeed in a course, about whether they enjoyed their instructor, and about their overall satisfaction with the class, answers can often be traced back to an educator who was perceived by the student as caring. Perceived caring occurs when a student feels that a teacher’s positive behaviors directed toward the student are motivated by good intentions and good will.

Research in the area of teacher care has almost exclusively focused on elementary and secondary classrooms, and has advanced the theory that caring teachers and caring classroom environments prompt many positive educational outcomes. Noticeably lacking from the caring literature is research focusing on the application of caring theory in postsecondary classrooms. Does caring have as large an impact on college students?

A pilot study was conducted in which four students at a major university were invited to document their thoughts and perceptions of care by their professors, and were asked to pay particular attention to what caring behaviors their professors took. As a result of the qualitative analysis, five caring behaviors were discovered: efforts by professors to know student names, efforts to display care and concern during office hours, efforts in knowing and understanding students, efforts to create interesting and applicable lessons, and efforts to address student concerns during class.

The current study sought through further qualitative inquiry to validate these five caring behaviors and attempted to identify others that may strengthen an atmosphere of perceived care in the college classroom. Twenty students were interviewed and invited to chronicle impressions of caring principles in their classrooms, with the objective of shedding insight into those caring behaviors that are most meaningful. Ten professors were also interviewed regarding their perceptions of extending care to students.

Eight factors were found to influence the perception of care in college classrooms. These included verbal expressions of care, nonverbal expressions of care, knowing student names, displaying care and concern during office hours, making an effort to get to know students, creating interesting and applicable lessons, addressing student concerns during class, and the existence of a “feeling of care.”