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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Last modified: Tuesday, October 30, 2007

IU study finds high-impact practices boost learning, involved parents no problem

Nov. 5, 2007

EDITORS: A broadcast quality video interview with George Kuh, the NSSE director and Indiana University Bloomington professor of higher education, is available upon request. To obtain this video, or to set up an interview with a NSSE researcher, contact Chuck Carney at or 812-856-8027. Comments are also available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at under "Podcasts."

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Findings from a national survey released today (Nov. 5) at Indiana University show that taking part in certain activities during college boosts students' performance in many areas, such as thinking critically, solving real-world problems and working effectively with others.

These "high-impact" activities include learning communities, undergraduate research, study abroad, internships and capstone projects.

Contrary to what some educators believe, students who frequently talk with their parents and follow their advice participate more frequently in educationally purposeful activities and are more satisfied with their college experience. This is also true for students with so-called "helicopter parents" -- those who intervened with institutional officials to solve problems their student encountered on campus.

The 2007 report from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is based on information from about 323,000 randomly selected first-year and senior students at 610 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. The NSSE study, titled "Experiences That Matter: Enhancing Student Learning and Success," gives schools an idea of how well their students are learning and what they put into and get out of their undergraduate experience.

"The results clearly show that colleges and universities should do everything possible to encourage undergraduates to participate in at least two high-impact activities, one in the first year and one later in their studies. Such experiences will better prepare students for a productive, satisfying lifetime of continuous learning," says George Kuh, the NSSE director and Indiana University Bloomington professor of higher education.

Now in its eighth year, the survey annually provides comparative standards for determining how effectively colleges are contributing to learning. Five key areas of educational performance are measured: 1) level of academic challenge, 2) active and collaborative learning, 3) student-faculty interaction, 4) enriching educational experiences and 5) supportive campus environment.

"NSSE is becoming increasingly helpful in improving student success and building public confidence in the commitment of colleges and universities to improve teaching and learning," says Paul E. Lingenfelter, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers.

According to Douglas Bennett, president of Earlham College, "NSSE provides prospective students and their parents with information and insights that will help them find a college or university that is a good fit for them."

Other key findings from the 2007 report are:

  • Students who meet with their adviser at least twice a year are more engaged and gain more from college, yet 10 percent never meet with their adviser.
  • Thirteen percent of first-year students have parents who frequently intervene with college officials.
  • When faculty members provide guidance and feedback on projects and papers, students are more satisfied and say they benefit more in desired ways.
  • First-year men report higher SAT or ACT scores, but spend less time than women preparing for classes and more time relaxing and socializing in the first year of college.
  • Students who study abroad report greater gains in intellectual and personal development than their peers who do not have such an experience.
  • First-generation students are less likely to take part in enriching educational experiences such as study abroad, an internship, or research with a faculty member.
  • An internship or field placement is the most powerful form of a culminating senior experience.
  • Only 29 percent of seniors at public institutions do a culminating senior experience, compared with 42 percent of their private college and university counterparts.

The report is available at on Nov. 5 at 12:01 a.m. Reporters can access the report at no cost.

"NSSE is an institution's most trustworthy lens for seeing deeply into the quality of students' experiences, because its results can translate directly into plans for action and reform and transformation strategies," says Lee S. Shulman, president of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

According to James H. Breece, University of Maine system vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, "NSSE provides invaluable information to our administrators, faculty, and staff that they need to make changes to improve the student experience."

Kuh believes that colleges and universities should be more consistently using promising practices in teaching and learning throughout the curriculum to engage all their students at high levels. "The real question," he says, "is whether we have the will to do so."

Media Outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at Look for the story headline under "Podcasts."

Kuh says the alleged peril of the "helicopter parent" might be a myth:

"We asked questions about how often students were in contact, and it turns out that students — and by the way — about three quarters of students think they are in frequent contact with one or more members of their family or siblings. But it turns out that those students who are in frequent contact and who have parents who intervene frequently — and that's almost 15 percent of first-year students — they are no less engaged in the things that matter to their learning and they report outcomes, self-report outcomes that are as robust or even greater than students who don't have as much contact with their parents. So we may be overstating the worry about so-called helicopter parents. It may be that they are simply taking a greater interest in their student, and the student responds in kind. This may have been the case — who knows, this may be an extension of the soccer mom, spending a good deal of time with the student and the student seems to benefit, not be disadvantaged by it."

Kuh says the survey results might indicate a reason for more parent involvement:

"I think appropriate involvement on the part of people in a social support network is very important. Students do need support in college. Surely too much is probably suffocating. In this instance, parents, students, seem to have found a common ground in a way that's not hindering their development or success in college."

The NSSE survey found high-impact activities that show benefit for students all have common ground:

"These are the kinds of things that can boost students' performance, and because of several factors. All of these things have several things, several factors in common. They all require greater effort on the part of the student. They all provide more frequent feedback to the student, as they work in the company of peers or with a faculty member. So there are these things that are built-in, if you will, to these high-impact practices that are beneficial across the board."

Kuh says an agreement to share selected data with USA Today will give students and parents another tool for considering colleges:

"So we think this is a healthy step. Again, we've not forced schools to do this — schools can do it on their own accord. There are several institutions out of the Indiana University that have done this — the Bloomington campus, the East campus, Kokomo, I think South Bend. So these scores will be available to the public. And this is the start of another kind of conversation with people about what matters to undergraduate education, what these scores mean and what they don't mean. It's limited in terms of what the NSSE survey and what it can say about an institution. On the other hand, it does give people something else to consider, something more important, perhaps, than rankings, because rankings tell you what an institution has, but not what students do. And that's the purpose of the NSSE survey — just what are students doing with what institutions provide for their learning?"

The NSSE 2007 Report, "Experiences That Matter: Enhancing Student Learning and Success," may be obtained for $20 from the National Survey of Student Engagement, Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, School of Education, 1900 E. 10th Street, Eigenmann Hall, Suite 419, Bloomington IN 47406-7512. For more information, visit the NSSE Web site: The NSSE 2007 Report is sponsored by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.