High Impact Practices Contribute to Student Success

As many people know, Dalton State College completed a Strategic Planning process this past spring where we developed updated Mission, Vision and Values statements along with four strategic goals and multiple associated action steps. During this process, we reflected upon the future of Dalton State and the ways we prepare to improve upon its achievements. The College considered the accumulated research and best practices for student success cited by colleagues across the United States in the preparation of our strategic plan for the next three years. There is extensive research on a topic that has become known as “high-impact practices” or HIPs.

The American Association of Colleges and Universities has published comprehensively on this topic. AAC&U describes HIPs as “techniques and designs for teaching and learning that have proven to be beneficial for student engagement and successful learning among students from many backgrounds.” In other words, HIPs are activities that have a proven track record of being associated with student success in higher education, particularly with students who are statistically at risk for lower performance including, for example, first generation college students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Let me be clear that there is no magic formula for student success. If there were, colleges and universities would all have implemented it long ago. But there is a great deal of evidence that these so called high-impact practices are associated with higher student success rates. Therefore, colleges and universities have begun incorporating these activities into their curriculum as resources permit. Some examples of these HIPs are:

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

Some of these are self-explanatory and others are not as obvious, but you may be wondering why we don’t simply implement all of the HIPs immediately. Well of course there are always resources needed for these new ideas. Many of these activities require more time, more personnel and additional funding for supplies, travel, training, and more. Because our resources are limited, we must be strategic about phasing in implementation of these activities. Furthermore, there is no guarantee of success even with these HIPs if they are poorly executed. Therefore, understanding how best to apply these techniques and finding the needed resources must be our first steps. Nevertheless, Dalton State has committed itself to this work in our new Strategic Plan. In theory, if we execute these activities appropriately, the return on investment should outweigh the costs of these activities. I should also add that some of these best practices already exist at Dalton State, but research shows these endeavors must be more fully employed across the campus disciplines and classes in order to achieve the greatest results.

Last month, Dalton State sent a team of faculty and staff who are passionate about this work to a workshop conducted by AAC&U to study with others across the country about how best to employ these HIPs at Dalton State. Again, there is no cookie cutter solution for executing these techniques but there are lessons learned by colleagues at other institutions, and these colleagues are willing to share their experiences with us through AAC&U. The Dalton State team focused on this work for several days away from campus and home distractions, and they have returned with a plan for execution that is ambitious yet realistic, phasing in these HIPs over the next few years.

I am proud of the dedication of our faculty and staff who are willing and able to join forces to discuss and study such a complex matter because they care deeply about our students. In an environment where there are scarce resources, it is all too easy for people to retreat to their corners and focus on retaining their own limited funding and turf. Instead, Dalton State employees are combining their efforts and expertise, sharing their funding and time to identify new ways of better serving each other and our students.