Keynote 2

  • High impact activities: what they are, why they matter

    George D. Kuh, Chancellor’s Professor and Director, Indiana University Centre for Postsecondary Research

    A growing body of evidence suggests that -- when done well – some programs and activities appear to engage participants at levels that elevates their performance across multiple engagement and desired outcomes measures such as grades, measures of deep learning, and persistence. These high-impact activities include first-year seminars, common intellectual experiences, learning communities, service learning, undergraduate research, study abroad and other experiences with diversity, internships, and capstone courses and projects. In this session we will look at why these high impact activities are so effective with all students. For example:
    • They typically demand that students devote considerable amounts of time and effort to purposeful tasks
    • The nature of these high impact activities puts students in circumstances that essentially demand they interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters, typically over extended periods of time.
    • Participating in one or more of these activities increases the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different than themselves.
    • Even though the structures and settings of high impact activities differ, students typically get frequent feedback about their performance in every one.
    • Participating in these activities provides opportunities for students to see how what they are learning works in different settings, on and off the campus.

    If we are serious about enhancing student engagement and increasing student success we should make it possible for every student to participate in at least two high impact activities during their undergraduate program, one in the first year, and one later related to their major field. The obvious choices for the first year are first-year seminars, learning communities, and service learning. In the later years of college, study abroad, internships and other field experiences, and a culminating experience are all possible. Ideally, institutions would structure the curriculum and other learning opportunities so that one high impact activity was available to every student every year. This is a goal worth striving for, but only after a school has scaled up the number of students – especially those historically underserved – who have such experiences in the first year and later in their studies. In the short term, doing so should have a demonstrable impact in terms of student persistence and satisfaction as well as desired learning outcomes. High impact practices are not elixirs for all the challenges to student success. There are limits as to what colleges and universities can realistically do to help students overcome years of educational disadvantages. At the same time, almost every college or university offers some form of every high impact practice described here. But at too many institutions, only small numbers of students are involved. The time has come for colleges and universities to make participating in high impact activities a reality for every student.


    Founding director of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), George D Kuh also provides leadership for related surveys for faculty and law school students, the NSSE Institute for Effective Educational Practice, and the College Student Experiences Questionnaire Assessment Program. During his 30 years at Indiana University, he served as chairperson of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Education, and Associate Dean of the Faculties for the Bloomington campus.

    George received a BA from Luther College, master’s degree from St. Cloud State University, and PhD from the University of Iowa . He has published about 300 items and made several hundred presentations on topics related to assessment, institutional improvement, and campus cultures. In addition, he has consulted with about 200 institutions of higher education and educational agencies in the United States and abroad. Among his 20 books and monographs are Piecing Together the Student Success Puzzle (2007); Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter (2005); Student Learning Outside the Classroom: Transcending Artificial Boundaries(1994); Involving Colleges (1991); The Invisible Tapestry: Culture in American Colleges and Universities (1988); and Indices of Quality in the Undergraduate Experience. Past-president of Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), he serves on the editorial boards ofChange and Liberal Education and several other periodicals as well as the National Leadership Council for the Association for American Colleges and Universities’ ten-year “Liberal Education and America’s Promise” initiative.

    A past president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), Kuh was honoured with that association's prestigious Research Achievement Award. His work has also been recognized with numerous other awards including the Academic Leadership Award from the Council of Independent Colleges, the Virginia B. Smith Innovative Leadership Award, Contribution to Knowledge Award from the American College Personnel Association, the Contribution to Literature and Research Award and the Shaffer Award for Academic Excellence as a Graduate Faculty Member from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, three Best Forum Paper Awards from the Association of Institutional Research, the Educational Leadership Award from St. Cloud State University, the Lifetime Achievement Award from ACPA, and several honorary degrees (Luther College, Millikin University, Washington and Jefferson College, Winthrop University). In 2001 he received Indiana University ’s prestigious Tracy Sonneborn Award for a distinguished record of scholarship and teaching.