What High-Impact Practices Are and Why They Matter for Student Success

For the uninitiated, the term “high-impact practices” is all too vague.

Without added context, a high-impact practice could seemingly refer to any action that produces meaningful results. Brushing your teeth, sleeping eight hours a day, or watching all of Schitts’ Creek can all have arguably high impacts upon your physical, mental, and emotional health. 

So are they high-impact practices?!

In your personal life, sure; feel free to consider them high-impact practices. But in the context of co-curricular education, toothbrushing, sleeping, and Schitt’s Creek-watching don’t qualify. (Sorry, Crest and Dan Levy.) 

Educational high-impact practices do so much more than the name itself reveals, and must hit many hidden qualifiers to accurately and deservedly be considered HIPs. 

Free Ebook: High Impact Practices

To get into that, let me reacquaint you with a certain educational researcher and theorist: George Kuh. 

In his 2008 e-book, High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter, published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Kuh detailed six essential qualities of the very best co-curricular experiences. These experiences aren’t mere one-time programs that reward students with pizza, a motivational speaker, and a new friend or two. Rather, they are long-term experiences that are exceptionally well-designed to foster student success during participants’ time at the institution and beyond. 

They are, as you may have guessed, high-impact practices.

Features of High-Impact Practices

According to Kuh, to qualify for this gold-standard co-curricular label of “high-impact practices,” programs must offer:

  • Considerable time and effort requirements for students
    HIPs “demand that students devote considerable time and effort to purposeful tasks [and] require daily decisions that deepen students’ investment in the activity as well as their commitment to their academic program and the college.”
  • Meaningful interactions between faculty and students:
    They challenge students to interact with faculty and peers “about substantive matters, typically over extended periods of time.”
  • Collaboration with people of diverse backgrounds
    HIPs “increase the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different from themselves… [and] challenge students to develop new ways of thinking about and responding immediately to novel circumstances as they work side-by-side with peers on intellectual and practical tasks, inside and outside the classroom, on and off-campus.”
  • Constant, Consistent Feedback
    HIPs offer frequent feedback about their performance, and “because students perform in close proximity to supervisors or peers, feedback is almost continuous.”
  • Opportunities to apply concepts in real-world settings
    They provide opportunities for students to “see how what they are learning works in different settings, on and off-campus.”
  • Reflection and integrative learning opportunities
    HIPs “deepen learning and bring [students] values and beliefs into awareness … [they] help students develop the ability to take the measure of events and actions and put them in perspective. As a result, students better understand themselves in relation to others and the larger world, and they acquire the intellectual tools and ethical grounding to act with confidence for the betterment of the human condition.”

 

High Impact Practices

Key to this all is intentionality. Other campus experiences — such as leadership roles, org membership, or orientation attendance — may happen to gift students with some of the same learning outcomes as HIPs, but they are unlikely to meet the high bar set by all six of Kuh’s HIP qualities. 

So, no, you cannot just design a regular ole program, no matter how enjoyable and well attended, and hope that’ll happen to turn into a HIP. HIPs are not merely stumbled upon; they’re carefully, methodically designed to meet the most essential co-curricular benefits. 

That means that, even if you’ve worked in student programming of experiential education for many years, you may have never created nor facilitated a high-impact practice before. 

Yet, unless you’re literally retiring tomorrow, it’s not too late to get in on the HIP action! You should feel motivated to do so because just as high-impact practices are more demanding in their expectations of students, they also offer more rewards than non-HIP programs — for individual students and for the institution as a whole. 

Benefits of High-Impact Practices

Kuh along with Jillian Kinzie, Jayne E. Brownell & Lynn E. Swaner found that HIPs are positively associated with:

  • Persistence and GPA 
  • “Deep approaches to learning” 
  • Higher rates of student-faculty interaction 
  • Increases in critical thinking and writing skills
  • Greater appreciation for diversity
  • Higher student engagement overall

All of this means that students involved in HIPs are more likely to stay enrolled, graduate with strong GPAs, and impress prospective employers with their mastery of essential skills.

Or put simply:

High-impact practices can help students develop skills that are essential in the workplace and that transfer to a wide range of settings — such as communication, problem solving and critical thinking. In addition, they can give an institution a distinctive and competitive edge at a time when many colleges and universities are struggling to maintain enrollments.” Richard F. Vaz, director of the Center for Project-Based Learning at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in writing for Inside Higher Ed

What’s more, Ashley Finair and Tia McNair found these benefits to be even more pronounced among students holding a number of historically marginalized identities. 

Historically underrepresented or underserved (e.g., racial minorities, first-generation) students who participated in more than one high-impact practice reported significantly greater gains in ‘deeper learning’ and learning outcomes than their peers who reported involvement in only one high-impact practice.” — Summary from the Center for Engaged Learning

Ideally — and to truly transform the landscape of higher education — campuses won’t merely offer a handful of high-impact practices that a small percentage of the student body will participate in. Rather, Kuh advises institutions to “make it possible for every student to participate in at least two high-impact activities during his or her undergraduate program, one in the first year and one taken later in relation to the major field.”

Learn More

Intimidated? We can help you take action to conquer that feeling. Check out our brand new e-book all about HIPs. In addition to defining high-impact practices, this free resource also details specific programming ideas, offers advice for designing and implementing a HIP for the very first time, explains how you can assess student learning outcomes, and more. 

Free Download: High-Impact Practice Ebook

It all pairs beautifully with Presence’s Experiences feature — which connects campus experiences with learning outcomes, points, and reflections, all in one intuitive user platform. Click here to schedule a chat with us one of our experts about it.

Jodi Tandet

About the author: Jodi Tandet loves writing about the complexities of campus life as the Lead Storyteller at Presence. She's also passionate about making homemade ice cream, forging peace agreements between her calico cat and lab/dachshund mix, and listening to a debatably unhealthy number of podcasts. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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