Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies


College of Education

First Advisor

Matthew Irvin


Peer leaders as a component of First-Year Seminars (FYS) are designed to assist in the adjustment, satisfaction and persistence of first-year college students. Although previous studies have consistently found the positive and direct impact of peer leaders on first-year students’ academic achievement and persistence, there is still a lack of clear understanding on why peer leaders have this positive relationship with students’ academic achievement and persistence. Thus, drawing on Astin’s theory of student involvement for higher education (1984, 1993, 1996), and Tinto’s interactive theory of departure (1993), this short term longitudinal study examined the process through which peer leaders resulted in improving students’ academic achievement and persistence. Specifically, this study tested a mediational model of the relationship among FYS peer leaders, student involvement, end-of-first-year GPA and second-year persistence. This study also compared the effects of different peer leader types (i.e., undergraduate peer leaders, graduate peer leaders, or no peer leaders) on FYS student outcomes. Results from structural equation modeling to test mediation showed that the relationship between graduate peer leaders and FYS students’ end-of-first-year GPAs was mediated by students’ study hours, a behavioral form of academic involvement. In addition, students’ study hours and end-of-first-year GPAs co-mediated the relationship between graduate peer leaders and students’ second-year persistence. In other words, having a graduate peer leader in the FYS was positively related to students’ study hours, which was in turn positively related to students’ end-of-first-year GPAs, and then led to a higher probability of students’ second-year persistence. The indirect effects on students’ end-of-first-year GPA and second-year persistence did not differ significantly between undergraduate peer leaders and no peer leaders. The significance, limitations, and implications of this study for future research and practice on how peer leaders in FYSs can more effectively promote first-year students’ academic achievement and persistence were also discussed.


© 2017, Liyun Zhang