George Kuh is one of the godfathers of high-impact educational practices and student engagement. He wrote an article for a recent issue of the Journal of College and Character in which he addressed the tough challenge of maintaining high-impact educational practices in difficult economic times that mean retrenchment in many institutions. A few quotes:
How do we get through the next 18 months without the quality of the student experience eroding significantly?And now, for the rest of the story...
Four sets of actions may help limit the most deleterious effects on the student experience of this perfectly miserable storm.
First, the most direct route to preserving educational quality is to build a zero-based operating budget that privileges effective educational practices in ways that are congruent with the institution’s mission. These practices include engaging pedagogies such as active and collaborative learning, prompt feedback, and holding students to high expectations…and the recently identified high-impact activities that induce high levels of engagement on the part of all types of students including those from historically underrepresented groups…. Among these activities are learning communities, study abroad, internships, undergraduate research, and service learning. Although some high-impact activities may cost more than delivering instruction via lecture, they are especially good at enhancing engagement and learning. Equally important, student engagement and persistence do not appear to be directly related to the amount of institutional expenditures…. However, where money is spent does make a difference. For example, one recent study found a higher positive correlation between graduation rates and spending on student services - including things like student organizations, additional educational tools, and health and registrar services - than between graduation rates and instructional or research spending…. Gwendolyn Dungy, NASPA executive director, wisely said that these findings alone do not justify moving more resources into student services…. More important, perhaps, is finding ways for student services and academic staff to collaborate productively on serving students well, both in and out of the classroom.
The second action is for institutional leaders, faculty, and staff to maintain a laser-like focus to make sure core teaching, learning, and student support functions are done well
Third, seek ways to stretch resources by using student staff in ways that fuel engagement and learning. Two approaches come to mind. The first is to use more undergraduates in instructional roles, such as teaching assistants in lower division courses, peer leaders for learning communities, learning center tutors, and research assistants…. Another approach is to expand the number of students who work on campus in essential functions and use the work experience to enhance its educational impact by intentionally creating some of same conditions that characterize the high-impact activities mentioned earlier.
The fourth set of actions is inspirational, motivational leadership - a tall order. At the end of the day, people are integral to everything worthwhile that happens in a college or university. Relationships matter to student, faculty, and staff performance. However quaint it may sound, maintaining the morale of everyone on campus may be the most important and only thing senior administrators and staff can do to maintain educational quality in coming months that does not have a direct monetary cost.