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Predictors of Student Satisfaction with University Psychology Courses: A Review


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***POSTPRINT: This is the revised version of a manuscript that was published in Psychology Learning and Teaching (2015), 14 (2), 131-146,

doi: 10.1177/1475725715590959***

Predictors of Student Satisfaction with University Psychology Courses: A Review

Heather J. Green, Michelle Hood, & David L. Neumann

Griffith Health Institute Behavioural Basis of Health Program & School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia

Word count: 5000

Correspondence should be addressed to: Dr Heather Green, School of Applied Psychology, Gold Coast campus, Griffith University Qld 4222, Australia


Author Biographies

HEATHER GREEN is a lecturer in the School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University. She teaches clinical, health, and applied psychology in undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Her research interests include self-efficacy and skill development in students and professionals, and helping people understand and manage chronic health conditions, such as cancer.

MICHELLE HOOD is a senior lecturer at Griffith University. She teaches

undergraduate courses in research methods and statistics, developmental psychology, and psychological assessment. Her research interests include academic engagement and

motivation, especially in university students, children's literacy and numeracy development, and career development in young adults.

DAVID NEUMANN is the Deputy Head of School (Learning and Teaching) in the School of Applied Psychology at Griffith University. He teaches undergraduate courses in statistics, learning, and physiological psychology. His research interests include learning and performance, including the learning of research methods and statistics at university.



Student satisfaction at university is receiving increasing attention. While academic discipline has been associated with student satisfaction in many studies, we found no previous reviews of student satisfaction within psychology, a discipline with among the largest undergraduate enrollments. In this paper, we review the student satisfaction literature, with a focus on undergraduate psychology. Searches of relevant databases and reference lists were used to source articles for this narrative review. Evidence regarding institutional, teaching, and student variables associated with student satisfaction is discussed. Teaching variables, particularly teaching quality and expertise, tend to show the strongest relationships with student satisfaction. Institutional variables, such as services, facilities, image, and research activity, are also important. Individual student characteristics including achievement and attitudes have been associated with psychology students’ satisfaction. Recommendations to improve satisfaction include helping psychology students to develop accurate expectations of courses, facilitating teaching quality and style that matches psychology students’ preferred thinking styles, and assisting students to develop self-efficacy and other positive attitudes. Further research to understand and improve psychology students’ satisfaction would be beneficial.

Keywords: Student satisfaction; University; Psychology; Literature review; Learning and teaching; Marketing


Predictors of Student Satisfaction with University Psychology Courses: A Review Universities increasingly value student satisfaction (Douglas, Douglas, McClelland, & Davies, 2015; Xiao & Wilkins, 2015). Reviews have examined student satisfaction across multiple disciplines (Audin, Davy, & Barkham, 2003) or in specific disciplines (Gibson, 2010). However, we could find no previously published review of psychology students’ satisfaction. In this paper, we examine predictors of student satisfaction that we see as being particularly relevant to undergraduate psychology. Further, we discuss implications and make recommendations for teaching undergraduate psychology based on this existing literature. We searched databases including PsycINFO, Google Scholar, and ERIC using the terms “student satisfaction,” “predictors of student satisfaction,” “psychology,” “teaching psychology,” and “psychology courses.”

Satisfaction refers to the evaluation of a service and comprises cognitive, affective, and attitudinal components (Petruzzellis, D'Uggento, & Romanazzi, 2006). Higher

satisfaction is associated with consumer loyalty and positive affect, in research that has mostly tested cross-sectional associations (e.g., Baumann, Elliott, & Burton, 2012).

Therefore, institutional outcomes such as word-of-mouth recommendations, enrollment, and retention relate to student satisfaction; these associations are generally interpreted as

indicating consequences of satisfaction but reciprocal relations are possible (Clemes, Gan, & Kao, 2008; Umbach & Porter, 2002). Student satisfaction can also have important

implications for teaching due to its bidirectional associations with student engagement and achievement (Pike, 1991).

Two key models of consumer satisfaction have been applied to interpreting student satisfaction data. The expectancy/disconfirmation paradigm suggests that satisfaction results when consumer experience is better than expected, and dissatisfaction when the experience is worse than expected (Arambewela & Hall, 2009; Oliver, 1981). The second model,


Herzberg’s two-factor theory of work satisfaction, distinguishes between “satisfiers,” elements that result in satisfaction if adequately fulfilled, and “dissatisfiers,” elements that lead to dissatisfaction if they are present (DeShields Jr, 2005). For students, satisfiers usually directly relate to academic outcomes (e.g., interactions with academic staff), whereas

dissatisfiers are factors extrinsic to core student experiences (e.g., enrollment issues, DeShields Jr, 2005; Gibson, 2010).

Satisfaction varies across disciplines. Australian science and agriculture students were the most satisfied (Radloff & Coates, 2010), while psychology graduates scored close to the mean ratings across disciplines (Lipp et al., 2006). Garcia-Aracil (2009) found that European social science graduates were as satisfied as law and medicine graduates but less satisfied than education graduates. Wiers-Jennsen et al. (2002) found that Norwegian social science and medical students were more satisfied than natural science and technology students.

Understanding factors that influence psychology students’ satisfaction is important because psychology has some of the highest enrollments among undergraduate courses or majors (Rask & Bailey, 2002), yet most psychology students will not become psychologists, which can lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction (Haskell et al., 2012). Another potential source of dissatisfaction with psychology is the emphasis placed on the scientific method and statistics in instruction (Freng, Webber, Blatter, Wing, & Scott, 2011; Rowley, Hartley, & Larkin, 2008). Psychology is classified as a “soft, pure” discipline in Biglan’s (1973) nomenclature. “Hard” fields, such as physics, life sciences, and medicine, have a single paradigm, whereas “soft” fields, such as social sciences, humanities, business, and nursing, use multiple paradigms. Since the soft-hard distinction is associated with differences in both teaching methods (Lindblom-Ylänne, Trigwell, Nevgi, & Ashwin, 2006) and student beliefs about learning (Green & Hood, 2013), predictors of psychology student satisfaction would be expected to be more similar to those of soft than hard disciplines. Indeed, there is evidence


for differential predictors of student satisfaction in different disciplines (e.g., Hearn, 1985). Findings below relate to broad student samples, unless specific disciplines are identified.

Institutional and Course Variables

University services and facilities, campus physical environment, and global perceptions of a university potentially influence student satisfaction. Moreover, major departments, like psychology, can create “subenvironments” that might be more important for student satisfaction than overall institutional culture (Ewell, 1989). For example, Umbach and Porter (2002) found that departments with predominantly female undergraduates, which is often the case for psychology, received higher student ratings, even after accounting for departmental size and academic focus. They also found that students in departments where faculty were more successful in research, such as by obtaining research grants, reported higher satisfaction (see also Grunwald & Peterson, 2003; Volkwein & Carbone, 1994). From such results it may be concluded that research success produces a halo effect. Alternatively, it might be that research directly or indirectly contributes to improved teaching. Although psychology grant applications often have similar success rates to other disciplines

(Christensen et al., 2011; Golberg, 2015), the value of grant funding awarded to psychology tends to be relatively low (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2015), which may affect perceptions of prestige.

Broad institutional image can also influence student satisfaction (e.g., Arambewela & Hall, 2009). Brown and Mazzarol (2009) found the association between image and student satisfaction, across diverse disciplines, was independent of institutional age. Image

dimensions comprise (a) study environment (perceptions of support, innovation, and student focus), (b) practicality (how applied and job oriented courses are), and (c) conservativeness (established for a long time and perceived as prestigious). In addition to direct links between image and satisfaction, an indirect path emerged via perceived value. Reputation, which may


be implicated in image, has also been positively associated with satisfaction (DeWitz & Walsh, 2002; Palacio, Meneses, & Perez Perez, 2002).

Learning environment also affects student satisfaction. For example, business

students’ satisfaction decreases with larger class sizes (Coles, 2002). However, Cheng (2011) found that psychology students’ satisfaction was not affected by class size, despite

psychology having some of the largest class sizes. Less satisfaction is found for distance education rather than face-to-face instruction (Allen, Bourhis, Burrell, & Mabry, 2002; Ritchie & Newby, 1989), although these effects are tempered by variable findings and small effect sizes (Allen et al., 2002), as well as by limited data on newer on-line and blended learning technologies.

Another relevant institutional factor is the amount of social interaction among students (Audin et al., 2003). Social climate factors, including social interaction, predicted satisfaction of nursing (Liegler, 1997) and business (Arambewela & Hall, 2009) students. At one large US university, campus social life was second only to obtaining a quality education as a predictor of student satisfaction (Hampton, 1993). It can be surmised that fostering psychology student organizations and facilitating student participation in broader professional networks is likely to promote satisfaction in psychology students.

Facilities and services, specifically administrative staff service, library and computer access, campus cafeteria, and physical amenities predict student satisfaction (Mavondo, Tsarenko, & Gabbott, 2004; Wiers-Jenssen et al., 2002), as well as dissatisfaction.

Petruzzellis et al. (2006) found that Italian university students reported dissatisfaction with services linked to staff, such as contacts with staff and on-line exam bookings, and those that included administration, tutoring, placement, international relations, counselling, and free language courses.


Caution should be exercised in interpreting some research findings because results might be specific to a given institution or location. For example, Mai (2005) found that USA and UK business students differed in perceptions of student services and satisfaction. In addition, institutional variables can differ in their importance to students (Douglas, Douglas, & Barnes, 2006). Such findings highlight potential differences based on student nationality and the university.

Overall, there is evidence that institutional variables are important predictors of student satisfaction. It is important that future research determines if unique institutional factors influence psychology students’ satisfaction, since institutional factors have rarely been examined in this population. In the following section, we examine variables more directly under control of psychology departments, namely, teaching factors.

Teaching Variables

Three subsets of teaching variables have been linked to student satisfaction. First, satisfaction appears to be most strongly associated with aspects of teaching quality (Bigne, Moliner, & Sanchez, 2003), such as teachers’ knowledge and teaching style (Oldfield & Baron, 2000) together with course topics and execution (Curran & Rosen, 2006). Second, assessment and workload are important. Third, staff-student affective interactions may be related to student satisfaction.

Teacher’s Style and Knowledge

An actor who presented well but delivered little content received highly favorable evaluations from mental health graduate students (Naftulin, Ware, & Donnelly, 1973). This suggests that students rate teaching style as more important than knowledge or content. Similarly, Guolla (1999) concluded that lecturers’ enthusiasm was the most important factor in business students’ evaluations of teaching quality. However, both educational psychology and “general studies” students distinguished between style and substance when more specific


aspects of satisfaction were examined (Marsh & Ware, 1982). Presenter expressiveness influenced student ratings of their enthusiasm while content influenced evaluations of their knowledge. Similarly, social science students’ personal views of the lecturer’s charisma were associated with 69% of the variance in perceived teaching ability but with 37% of variance in satisfaction with the course (Shevlin, Banyard, Davies, & Griffiths, 2000).

Perceived teacher knowledge and teaching ability are more important predictors of student ratings of quality (Douglas et al., 2006) and satisfaction (Eom, Wen, & Ashill, 2006; Hearn, 1985) than faculty availability or approachability (Douglas et al., 2006; Hearn, 1985) or perceived teacher interest in the content (Mai, 2005). Letcher and Neves (2010) found that teaching quality was the second most important predictor of business students’ satisfaction (following student self-confidence). Similarly, Elliott and Shin (2002) found that excellent instruction, knowledgeable advisors, knowledgeable faculty, and overall quality of instruction were the four top factors in university student satisfaction related to course and teaching quality. Spooren, Mortlemans, and Denekens (2007) identified clarity of objectives, build-up of subject matter, presentation skills, organization, course materials, and teacher assistance as important aspects of teaching style and knowledge for student satisfaction. Many of these factors relate to course structure, which Eom et al. (2006) found predicted student satisfaction in online courses.

However, there are mixed findings regarding relative importance of teaching variables in explaining student satisfaction. Richardson, Slater, and Wilson (2007) found teaching quality explained 46% of variance in student satisfaction with their undergraduate degree. However, Nevill and Rhodes (2004) found that good teaching was only nominated by 11% of education students as a factor that would retain them at university (ranked fifth of seven factors), but was nominated by 16% (ranked second) with respect to attrition, suggesting it may operate more as a dissatisfier. Consistent with this, Chen and Hoshower (2003) found


that students rated improved teaching quality as a more important outcome of student evaluations than improved course content.

For undergraduate UK psychology, medicine, and business students, Sander, Stevenson, King, and Coates (2000) found that teaching skill was rated as most important, ahead of approachability, knowledge, enthusiasm, and organization. However, psychology and business students were significantly more concerned about teachers’ approachability than were medical students. Miglietti and Strange (1998) found that student-centered instruction was important to Spanish psychology students. They reported greater course satisfaction when the class was conducted in an innovative manner, when the teacher specified what students had to do and in what order, and when student autonomy regarding learning decisions was encouraged. Green and Hood (2013) also found greater satisfaction among psychology students who receive student-centered instruction. Malouff, Hall, Schutte, and Rooke (2010) identified 22 aspects of teaching style and knowledge relevant to satisfaction in psychology students. The strongest predictors were expressed interest in facilitating student learning (r = .41), publicly praising student effort (r = .41), using objective grading criteria (r = .36), and stimulating discussion (r = .36).

Workload, Assessment, and Feedback

Appropriate assessment and workload and provision of clear goals and standards for assessment are important predictors of student satisfaction (Ginns, Prosser, & Barrie, 2007). Psychology students’ satisfaction was predicted by using objective assessment criteria such as grading rubrics and specifying typical performance at each grade level (r = .36; Malouff et al., 2010). Similarly, Richardson et al. (2007) found that clear and fair assessment (r = .54), development of generic skills (r = .50) and feedback (r = .47) were more strongly related to satisfaction than was workload (r = .17) in a national undergraduate student sample.


Promptness and detail of feedback from lecturers predicted satisfaction in UK undergraduates (Richardson et al., 2007), international postgraduate business students

(Arambewela & Hall, 2009), and online students (Eom et al., 2006). According to Douglas et al. (2006), “promptness” is perceived as receipt of feedback within 3 weeks of submission, although students did take class size into account when considering what was reasonable.

The role of perceived assessment fairness was mixed, possibly reflecting the level at which satisfaction was assessed. Elliott and Shin (2002) found that fair and unbiased faculty was ranked least important for global satisfaction. However, strong relationships were found between perceived fairness and satisfaction with individual classes or instructors (Feldman, 1983; Rodabaugh & Kravitz, 1994). In psychology students, perceptions of fairness

accounted for a majority of variance in their ratings of teachers (Wendorf & Alexander, 2005).

Affective Aspects of Teaching

Several researchers have identified affective aspects of teaching, including

approachability, empathy, and staff-student interactions, as predictors of student satisfaction (see Alves & Raposo, 2009). However, results are mixed, with some researchers finding these are lower in importance than teaching quality or feedback and assessment. Results for demographic characteristics of teachers, such as age and gender, are mixed and weak (Feldman, 1983; Marsh & Hocevar, 1991). Tenured staff received higher ratings than graduate teaching assistants (Braskamp & Ory, 1994).

Staff friendliness (Nevill & Rhodes, 2004); approachability (Douglas et al., 2006; Elliott & Shin, 2002); and responsiveness (Mai, 2005) are not important factors. Richardson et al. (2007) found that availability and quality of support and advice had the second highest correlation with overall satisfaction (r = .59), after teaching quality, but Letcher and Neves (2010) found no association between business students’ satisfaction with advising and


program satisfaction. It is possible that personal qualities of the teacher or advisor, such as responsiveness, might only function as dissatisfiers (DeShields Jr, 2005; Douglas et al., 2015).

However, the point in the student lifecycle at which satisfaction is measured might influence findings. Scott (2008) found that Australian graduates ranked staff accessibility third of 10 subdomains in importance, whereas teaching skill was ranked only eighth. Similarly, Douglas et al. (2006) reported that staff responsiveness was more important to final year students. By comparison, staff approachability only explained around 3% of additional variance in satisfaction of Australian first year students, over that explained by how well the university met their expectations and how interesting they found their courses (Lee, Jolly, Kench, & Gelonesi, 2000). Possibly by the end of their degrees, students’

expectations of their relationship with staff changes to one approaching collegiality, resulting in staff accessibility and responsiveness becoming more salient. It is also possible that as complexity increases in later years, needs for staff assistance, including future career advice, increase and, therefore, accessibility and responsiveness become more important to


There are also discipline differences in perceptions regarding approachability. Psychology and business undergraduates were significantly more concerned about staff approachability than were undergraduate medical students (Sander et al., 2000). However, staff responsiveness was more important to female than male medical students (Robins, Gruppen, Alexander, Fantone, & Davis, 1997). Malouff et al. (2010) found that showing empathy for students was a significant predictor of psychology students’ satisfaction (r = .35).

There are also mixed results for the importance of teacher-student interactions. Astin (1993) identified this as an important predictor of satisfaction. However, Liegler (1997)


found that this was no longer a significant predictor for nursing students once perceived academic development was accounted for. Hearn (1985) also found that interaction was not an important predictor of satisfaction and this did not differ significantly by field.


Teaching quality is consistently found to be among the most important predictors of student satisfaction. Assessment and feedback clarity are also important. Affective qualities of the teacher are generally less important, but do show greater influence on satisfaction in final year and female students. For psychology students, both teaching skill and affective qualities affect satisfaction. Communicating clear expectations for assessment and grading fairly are also important to psychology students’ satisfaction.

Student Variables

Comparatively less research has examined associations between student

characteristics and satisfaction. Results are often mixed and generally these are weaker predictors of satisfaction than are institutional and teaching variables. However, there is evidence that they account for independent variance in satisfaction to that explained by institutional and teaching characteristics.

Demographic Characteristics

Findings regarding student age are mixed, possibly due to cultural differences. Older European graduates were more satisfied than younger ones, even after controlling for

academic environment variables (García-Aracil, 2009), but older Australian students (20+ years) were less satisfied, even though they reported greater engagement, better learning outcomes, and less intention to leave the institution than did younger students (Radloff & Coates, 2010). El Ansari and Oskrochi (2006) found that a significant age-satisfaction

relationship for public health students disappeared when other factors (class size, study mode, academic level, ethnicity, entry qualifications, and qualification aim) were controlled. Thus,


age does not appear to explain independent variance in satisfaction. One potential mediator of the age-satisfaction relationship is peer interaction, which is lower in older students and is related to higher satisfaction (e.g., among nursing students, Liegler, 1997).

Similarly, some researchers have reported no gender differences in satisfaction, especially once other factors were controlled (Abbasi, Malik, Chaudhry, & Imdadullah, 2011; Chan, Miller, & Tcha, 2005; El Ansari & Oskrochi, 2006; Lee et al., 2000; Wiers-Jenssen et al., 2002). This is despite the fact that female students tend to outperform male students (e.g., Win & Miller, 2005), and achievement is related to satisfaction. Other researchers have reported less satisfaction in female students (García-Aracil, 2009; Hesli, Fink, & Duffy, 2003; Robins et al., 1997; Umbach & Porter, 2002), which held after controlling for other important factors like mentoring (Hesli et al., 2003).

Teacher-student gender might interact in their relationship with satisfaction. Female university students were more satisfied with female teachers whereas no such effect was found for male students (Bachen, McLoughlin, & Garcia, 1999). The relationship between gender and satisfaction might also depend on how satisfaction is measured and the country being sampled. Females were more satisfied with presentations and assessment and less satisfied with teaching techniques than males in the USA but there were no gender

differences in Israel (Neumann & Neumann, 1981). However, in both the USA and Israel, gender was the most important predictor of satisfaction with their relationships with faculty, with females more satisfied than males. Gender effects in student satisfaction may be

particularly relevant to psychology, since this discipline has more female than male students and teaching staff (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2006).

Satisfaction may also differ according to nationality or ethnicity of the student. Spanish and French graduates were more satisfied than German graduates, although degree program moderated this relationship. With social sciences as the reference category, graduate


satisfaction was significantly higher for humanities, law, and mathematics in France and for humanities in Spain, but significantly lower for law in Spain (García-Aracil, 2009). Being an international student, or studying in a less familiar language, may relate to lower satisfaction. For example, international students studying in Australia reported lower satisfaction than domestic students in health, management, and commerce, but not in other disciplines

(Denson, Loveday, & Dalton, 2010; Radloff & Coates, 2010). International students showed lower achievement and less involvement in work-integrated learning (Radloff & Coates, 2010), which might explain their lower satisfaction. Similarly, in health sciences, Lee et al. (2000) found that 67% of English-speaking Australian students were satisfied compared to 50% of non-English-speaking students. This was despite the non-English-speaking students being engaged in more enrichment activities. However, like international students, their achievement was also lower on average, possibly explaining their lower satisfaction (Radloff & Coates, 2010).

Racial minority students also have more negative perceptions (Rankin & Reason, 2005). Generally, white American students were more satisfied than ethnic minority students, but Latino students were as satisfied as white students; it was African Americans who were least satisfied (National Survey of Student Engagement, 2005 [NSSE]). Latino students might be more satisfied because they represent the biggest minority group in the USA (United States Census Bureau, 2013). Consistent with this, Umbach and Porter (2002) found that Asian Pacific American graduates, one of the smallest minority groups, were less

satisfied with their major than were white graduates. In contrast to the NSSE (2005) findings, Umbach and Porter found that African American graduates were as satisfied as white

graduates, once a range of other demographic and institutional factors were controlled. Thus, the relationship between satisfaction and ethnicity might differ depending on the relative size of the ethnic minority group and other methodological factors.


Most researchers have found that working status is not related to student satisfaction, regardless of country or educational level (San, 2007; Wiers-Jenssen et al., 2002). Similarly, Radloff and Coates (2010) found no differences in satisfaction between full- or part-time Australian students, but Denson et al. (2010) found that full-time Australian students were more satisfied, after controlling for other student and institutional factors. However, they only found this relationship in students studying natural and health sciences and society and

culture and not in other disciplines. El Ansari and Oskrochi (2006) also found this

relationship in British health students. Thus, discipline appears to interact with enrollment status in determining satisfaction levels.


A range of student attitudes including expectations, motivation, capacity to self-regulate, and self-efficacy have been related to satisfaction. Expected liking of the course predicted satisfaction in both traditional and web-based psychology courses (Maki & Maki, 2003), while having expectations met predicted greater satisfaction in Portuguese students (Alves & Raposo, 2009). However, business students’ retrospective recall of expectations matched more strongly with end-of-semester satisfaction than did prospectively measured expectations (Appleton-Knapp & Krentler, 2006). It appears that students’ recall of initial expectations was fitted to their current levels of satisfaction. Consistent with this, Olivares (2001) found that the strongest predictor of satisfaction with psychology teachers was improvement in students’ interest from beginning to end of a course. Therefore, it is important that researchers take into account the dynamic nature of the expectations-satisfaction relationship.

Chan et al. (2005) argued that the match between students’ expectations and the demands placed on them might explain relationships found between workload and time management and satisfaction. Students who expect to succeed tend to expend more effort and


so accept heavier workloads and manage their time accordingly, with no detriment to satisfaction. However, students who expect to fail tend to disengage, perceive the workload as burdensome and do not manage their time effectively, resulting in dissatisfaction.

Results regarding motivation are mixed. Eom et al. (2006) found that student

motivation predicted satisfaction with online course delivery, independently of instructional factors. However, Curran and Rosen (2006) found that motivation and intention to engage in statistics courses were not related to students’ attitudes toward the course, whereas

instructional factors were. Thus, factors like course delivery and discipline might moderate the relationship between motivation and satisfaction. Chan et al. (2005) found that self-regulation, specifically time management, was the second most important predictor of economics students’ satisfaction, after other individual and institutional factors were

controlled. In particular, having enough time for recreation outside of university was the most important factor in satisfaction.

For psychology students, thinking styles predicted satisfaction with teaching (Betoret, 2007). In particular, hierarchical, judicial, and global thinking styles were associated with greater satisfaction and local and liberal styles with less satisfaction. In other words,

psychology students who were systematic and organized, who liked to critically analyze and evaluate ideas, and who preferred more abstract and general tasks were the most satisfied. However, those who liked working on more specific tasks and who liked to work in more innovative or creative ways were less satisfied. Maki and Maki (2003) found that a preference for working independently was related to greater satisfaction with both traditionally presented and online psychology courses.

Most studies find that self-efficacy is one of the strongest predictors of satisfaction in students across disciplines (Letcher & Neves, 2010; San, 2007; Wiers-Jenssen et al., 2002). Specifically, college self-efficacy, and not social or general self-efficacy, predicted


psychology students’ satisfaction (DeWitz & Walsh, 2002). Similarly, San (2007) found that graduate students’ attitudes regarding their knowledge and capability explained unique variance to that explained by other attitudes and institutional factors.


Higher achievement is consistently related to better satisfaction. This has been found in both traditional and web-based psychology courses (Maki & Maki, 2003), graduates (Umbach & Porter, 2002), and undergraduates (Denson et al., 2010). Almost half the students surveyed by Crumbley, Henry, and Kratchman (2001) reported that they would ‘punish’ lecturers on student evaluations of teaching if they believed that they had not taught them enough to allow them to maintain their grade point average. Similarly, perceptions of more lenient grading were associated with more favorable student evaluations (Crumbley et al., 2001; Olivares, 2001).

Students’ perceptions of their own performance accounted for 24% to 55% of the variance in USA and Israeli students’ satisfaction with presentations, assessment,

relationships with faculty, and teaching techniques, after school year, major, and gender were controlled (Neumann & Neumann, 1981). Researchers examining Australian students have found that those whose marks matched their expectations reported greater satisfaction (Chan et al., 2005; Lee et al., 2000). In psychology, even expecting to do well in a course was related to higher satisfaction with teachers (Wendorf & Alexander, 2005). However, caution is needed in interpreting the direction of the achievement-satisfaction relationship. Pike (1991) argued that satisfaction exerts a stronger influence on achievement than does achievement on satisfaction.


A range of demographic, attitude, and achievement measures have been found to predict student satisfaction in psychology and other disciplines, independently of institutional


and teaching factors. However, many mixed findings and null results might reflect

unmeasured moderating variables, such as seniority of students or differences in timing and focus of satisfaction measures.

Implications and Recommendations for Research and Practice Multiple factors that potentially influence students’ satisfaction have been

demonstrated, with many of these findings coming from students in psychology or similar “soft” disciplines. The exception is broader “institutional” factors, which have largely been studied in general student samples. In accordance with the expectancy/disconfirmation paradigm, higher satisfaction results when student expectations are met or exceeded. Helping students develop accurate expectations of psychology courses should increase satisfaction. One randomized intervention study showed that students in introductory psychology classes where the teacher clarified course expectations and facilitated student and student-staff interactions reported significantly greater satisfaction in end-of-term evaluations than students in control classes (Hermann, Foster, & Hardin, 2010).

Based on the distinction between satisfiers and dissatisfiers, we suggest that

psychology departments focus on satisfiers that can be further improved or dissatisfiers that are negatively affecting students, rather than on dissatisfiers that are currently adequate. For example, interaction between psychology students and academic staff is a satisfier that would be a target for further improvement if it is suboptimal. In contrast, dissatisfiers such as

enrollment issues should be a target for improvement via psychology departments providing enrollment advice only if it is found to be inadequate (DeShields Jr, 2005; Gibson, 2010).

Identifying where factors fall within a satisfaction × importance grid has also been suggested as a helpful approach for both teachers (Guolla, 1999) and departments or institutions (Hampton, 1993). Factors high in importance but low in satisfaction are logical targets for improvement. We found no studies that examined both importance and satisfaction


in psychology students. However, business and law students rated timetabling, textbook availability in learning centers, and workload as high in importance and low in satisfaction (Douglas et al., 2006). In a large student sample, workload was a weaker predictor of

satisfaction than knowing what they needed to do and in what order (Richardson et al., 2007). Thus, these may be areas for psychology departments to investigate in order to improve satisfaction.

Generally, teaching variables tend to relate more highly to student satisfaction than either institutional or student variables and so are a logical target to improve satisfaction. High quality teaching, clear assessment standards and criteria, and assessment fairness are important to psychology students’ satisfaction. Affective aspects of teaching are less important, although these might be more relevant later in the student lifecycle and for

women. Given that the majority of psychology students are women, this might be particularly important in psychology.

Improving the image of the psychology department might improve student

satisfaction. Image may be improved by increasing research involvement and communicating that to students. Psychology departments can use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to highlight research and other indicators of prestige to their students. Other institutional variables that contribute to student satisfaction include manageable class sizes, although Cheng (2011) found this was not a factor in psychology students’ satisfaction despite large classes.

Students who achieve, or expect to achieve, higher grades are more satisfied, although satisfaction might affect achievement as much as or more than achievement affects

satisfaction (Pike, 1991). Providing support around learning and assessment is likely to improve psychology students’ satisfaction, although simply focusing on supporting student achievement to improve satisfaction might be too simplistic. We also identified a range of


individual differences that moderated student satisfaction. Fostering psychology students’ expectations that they will like their courses, assisting them to develop college self-efficacy, and matching their preferred thinking styles are others ways that psychology departments might consider to improve psychology students’ satisfaction.

There are some limitations to note. No single study has tested all the predictors of student satisfaction described in this review, so the independent contributions of each predictor remain difficult to evaluate. Methodological issues relating to how and when satisfaction is measured have been highlighted. Moreover, not all predictors have been specifically tested in psychology students, despite evidence of cross-disciplinary differences. Finally, due to the correlational designs employed in most studies, the cause-effect

relationship between variables and student satisfaction remain to be demonstrated. However, bearing these limitations in mind, the research does suggest areas that could be targeted to improve satisfaction of psychology students, as outlined above. More research in which the student is seen as a consumer of services is needed to fully understand satisfaction in

psychology students. In particular, intervention studies aimed at improving satisfaction would be valuable for future research.



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