The Psychological Contracts of Undergraduate
University Students: Who Do They See as Exchange
Partners, and What Do They Think the Deals Are?
Joshua R. Knapp
Suzanne S. Masterson
Received: 6 September 2016 / Published online: 13 September 2017
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017
Abstract The relationship between students and their academic institution is based on
exchange. However, we have limited knowledge regarding how many exchanges students
perceive, who (or what) the perceived exchange partners are, and what the perceived terms
of those exchanges contain. To address this gap, we utilized a mixed-method approach to
explore and describe the psychological contracts of two sets of undergraduate university
students: newly entering freshman, and experienced university students. Results clearly
demonstrated that students perceive numerous psychological contracts relevant to their
education with a variety of partners both inside and at the boundaries of the institution.
Results also demonstrated that these contracts are qualitatively and quantitatively distinct.
The overarching implication of these ﬁndings is that students navigate a web of diverse
exchange partners, and it would be a mistake for educators and researchers to focus
exclusively on one or few relationships presupposed to be most important.
Keywords Psychological contracts Á Expectations Á Management Á Universities Á Social
exchange Á Reciprocity
The relationship between students and their academic institution is based on exchange.
Most generally, students receive an education in return for their effort and tuition. How-
ever, students encounter a variety of exchange partners throughout their academic career.
For example, faculty and staff provide classes and advising, while classmates and family
& Joshua R. Knapp
Suzanne S. Masterson
College of Business and Economics, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 4503 Hyland Hall,
809 W. Starin Road, Whitewater, WI 53190, USA
Carl H. Lindner College of Business, University of Cincinnati, 517 Carl H. Linder Hall,
PO Box 210165, Cincinnati, OH 45221-0165, USA
Res High Educ (2018) 59:650–679