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High-Impact Practices: Students researching in a forest.

High-Impact Practices


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High-impact practices, or HIPs, are active learning practices that promote deep learning by promoting student engagement as measured by the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE). To be a high-impact practice, the experience must satisfy the definition established by George Kuh (2008, Kuh & O'Donnell, 2013) and his colleagues at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U): achievement of deep learning, significant engagement gains, and positive differential impact on historically underserved student populations. Based on this definition, Kuh identified ten learning experiences as high-impact practices:

  • First Year Seminars and Experiences
  • Common Intellectual Experiences
  • Learning Communities
  • Writing Intensive Courses
  • Collaborative Assignments and Projects
  • Undergraduate Research
  • Diversity/Global Learning
  • Service Learning, Community-Based Learning
  • Internships
  • Capstone Courses and Projects.

Kuh recommends that to increase student engagement and student success, every student should participate in at least two HIPs during their academic career, but ideally every student should participate in one HIP each year in college. At the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UW-Eau Claire), all of our students engage in service learning as a graduation requirement. The Blugold Commitment Differential Tuition (BCDT) program further promises students at least one additional HIP beyond service learning, thus establishing UW-Eau Claire as one of the select universities able to satisfy Kuh's minimum number of experiences. When the BCDT program was adopted, three specific HIPs were selected as the focus of fulfilling the BCDT promise: student-faculty collaborative research, intercultural immersion, and internships or clinical experiences. These specific HIPs were selected for their fit with the then-existing, now legacy, differential tuition program, their fit with strategic campus priorities, and the demonstrated positive effects in Kuh's work, especially among historically underserved students. We were a leader in HIPs across the UW system schools from 2006-2011 according to NSSE survey results. However, since 2011, four schools in the System have outpaced UW-Eau Claire in the percentage of senior students who report having one or more high-impact experiences during their college career. Now is the time to reestablish HIPs as a core component of a Blugold degree and to make these experiences meaningful and memorable to our students.

While only ten practices have nationally been elevated as high-impact practices, Kuh and O'Donnell (2013) found that these practices share eight key elements:

  • Performance expectations set at appropriately high levels
  • Significant investment of time and effort by students over an extended period of time
  • Interactions with faculty and peers about substantive matters
  • Experiences with diversity, wherein students are exposed to and must contend with people and circumstances that differ from those which students are familiar
  • Frequent, timely, and constructive feedback
  • Periodic, structured opportunities to reflect and integrate learning
  • Opportunities to discover relevance of learning through real-world applications
  • Public demonstration of competence.

These characteristics need not be limited to the officially-designated high-impact practices. Rather, these characteristics can be used as principles to guide the design and delivery of nearly every learning experience. Doing so holds promise for reinforcing and amplifying the effects of deep learning and engagement, with particular benefit to underserved student populations. Taking these characteristics to heart should lead to their explicit use in the evaluation of all educational experiences at UW-Eau Claire. Indeed, these characteristics are at the core of the priorities and actions found to the right. 

Kuh, George D. & O'Donnell, K. (2013). Ensuring quality & taking high-impact practices to scale. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges & Universities.