What Student Affairs Professionals Need to Know About Student Engagement

George D. Kuh
Journal of College Student Development, Volume 50, Number 6, November/December 2009, pp. 683-706 (Article)
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/csd.0.0099

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What Student Affairs Professionals Need to Know About Student Engagement
George D. Kuh

In a 1992 Calvin and Hobbs cartoon (Watterson), 6-year-old Calvin asks his teacher whether he is being adequately prepared for the challenges of the 21st century. He wants to know if he will have the skills and competencies that will allow him to succeed in a tough, global economy. In response, the teacher suggests he start working harder because what he will get out of school depends on how much effort he puts into it. Calvin ponders this advice for a moment and says, “Then forget it.” The exchange between Calvin and his teacher gets right to the point about what matters to student learning and personal development. Indeed, one of the few unequivocal conclusions from How College Affects Students (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005) is that the amount of time and energy students put forth—student engagement—is positively linked with the desired outcomes of undergraduate education. Unfortunately, Calvin’s response is all too common, if not according to what students say, then by what they do or do not do. In this paper, I summarize the role and contributions of the scholarship and institutional research about student engagement and its relevance for student development professionals and others committed to enhancing the quality of the undergraduate experience. The presentation is organized into four major sections. First, I briefly describe the evolution of the student engagement concept and explain its importance to student development. Then, I summarize findings from research studies about

the relationships between student engagement and selected activities including participation in high-impact practices, employment, and some other experiences of relevant a relevance to the current generation of undergraduates. Next, I discuss some topics that warrant additional investigation to better understand how to further potential and utility of student engagement research and institutional policies and practices that the findings suggest. I close with some observations about the implications of student engagement research for student affairs professionals and others on campus committed to improving the quality of undergraduate education.

MeaninG, evolution, anD iMportance of StuDent enGaGeMent
Student engagement represents the time and effort students devote to activities that are empirically linked to desired outcomes of college and what institutions do to induce students to participate in these activities (Kuh, 2001, 2003, 2009). The meaning and applications of this definition of student engagement have evolved over time to represent increasingly complex understandings of the relationships between desired outcomes of college and the amount of time and effort students invest in their studies and other educationally purposeful activities (Kuh, 2009; Wolf-Wendel, Ward, & Kinzie, 2009). For example, building on Tyler’s “time on task” concept (Merwin, 1969), Pace

George Kuh is Chancellor’s Professor and Director of the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.
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Education Commission of the States. 684 Since then. Milem. 1993. In addition. His landmark longitudinal studies about the impact of college on students empirically demonstrated the links between involvement and a range of attitudinal and developmental outcomes (Astin. Astin (1984) further fleshed out and popularized the quality of effort concept with his “theory of involvement. Wingspread Group on Higher Education. moral and ethical development (Jones & Watt. although conditional effects apply. 1993). 2007. (b) active learning. self-esteem. Association of American Colleges and Universities [AAC&U]. Tinto.” which highlighted the psychological and behavioral dimensions of time on task and quality of effort. The bulk of the empirical research suggests that students from different backgrounds all generally benefit from engaging in effective educational practices. 2005). Some have understandably and correctly sounded cautionary notes about whether the assumptions on which the engagement construct rest apply more to full-time.g. Each of these represents a different dimension of engagement. 1985. & Millard.Kuh (1980. 1993). Pascarella. 2002. 2006. 1984) developed the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ) to measure “quality of effort” to identify the activities that contributed to various dimensions of student learning and personal development. Joint Task Force on Student Learning. 1994. 1977. 1987. numerous scholars have contributed scores of papers addressing different features of student engagement variously defined (e. meaning that some students benefit more than others from Journal of College Student Development . National Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Braxton. psychosocial development. 1999. 2000. 1999).. applying their learning to concrete situations and tasks in different contexts. Chickering & Reisser. 2009. 1993). 1993). traditional-age. time on task. and locus of control (Bandura. These outcomes include cognitive development (Astin. (e) high expectations.. after an invitational conference of scholars and educators held at the Wingspread Conference Center in Wisconsin. American College Personnel Association. and residential students. Peluso. 2004. Liddell & Davis. quality of effort. 1990). Pascarella & Terenzini. 2008).g. Harper & Quaye. Chickering and Gamson (1987) distilled the discussions about the features of high-quality teaching and learning settings into seven good practices in undergraduate education: (a) student–faculty contact. 1998. and so forth (Pace. 1984.. 1993. and less to students from historically underserved groups (Bensimon. 1984) which underscored the importance of involvement to student achievement and such other valued outcomes as persistence and educational attainment (Astin. Astin was a major contributor to the widely cited Involvement in Learning report (National Institute of Education. (f ) respect for diverse learning styles. 1996). (d) time on task. 1999). Pike. and persistence (Berger & Milem. (c) prompt feedback. In that same decade. National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges. His research across three decades (1960 to 1990) showed that students gained more from their studies and other aspects of the college experience when they devoted more time and energy to certain tasks that required more effort than others—studying.g. 2006b. 1997. interacting with their peers and teachers about substantive matters. 2007. and (g) cooperation among students. 2000. & Sullivan. involvement) and their relationship to various desired outcomes of college (e. Pascarella. Ortman. Keeling. virtually every reform report since Involvement in Learning emphasized to varying degrees the important link between student engagement and desired outcomes of college (e. Seifert & Blaich. Kuh. 2005. Pascarella & Terenzini. 1995. 2006a. 2005. 1995.

2008). All of these efforts encourage or require that student engagement data be incorporated in some meaningful way. Shoup. 2001.Student Engagement certain activities (Pascarella & Terenzini. 2008. 2007). satisfaction. 1996. Bridges. the combination of 685 50 No 6 . & Gonyea. 2005). Taken together. They include: • the Voluntary System of Accountability sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and American Association of State Colleges and Universities and its College Portrait which features data on learning outcomes (McPherson & Shulenburger. and graduation (Kuh. What the institution does to foster student engagement can be thought of as a margin of educational quality—sometimes called value added—and something a college or university can directly influence to some degree (Kuh. Other related factors also compelled institutions to pay attention to student engagement. 1991. Gonyea & Kuh. other learning opportunities. and support services to encourage students to participate in activities positively associated with persistence. 2005). Cruce. & Pascarella. Schuh. In the 1990s. a second feature of student engagement began to receive more attention— how the institution allocates its resources and arranges its curricula. 2007. • the Council of Independent Colleges. the student experience. Kuh. At November /December 2009 ◆ vol the same time. Wolniak. where colleges and universities can present selected information about costs. learning. comprehensive story of students’ educational experiences and be a powerful lever for institutional improvement (Ewell & Jones. Kuh. regional accrediting agencies and their counterparts in the disciplines required that institutions show evidence that they were assessing student outcomes and aspects of the campus environment associated with these outcomes and were using this information to improve student learning and success (Ewell. Kuh. Buckley. As the calls for accountability became more frequent and occasionally strident (National Commission on the Future of Higher Education. actionable information about how students spent their time and what institutions emphasized in terms of student performance could tell an accurate. Whitt. some leaders championed systematic approaches to demonstrate that institutions were taking seriously their responsibility for student learning. Seifert. National Survey of Student Engagement [NSSE]. Kinzie. responsible ways to measure quality that could also be used to improve teaching and learning. & Associates. 2009). & Hayek. The argument was that credible. building frustration with the amount of attention given to rankings based on institutional resources compelled scholars and educational leaders to find a more promising. 2006). 2006. which encourages its member institutions to use standardized and locally developed instruments to document student learning. Pascarella & Terenzini. Schuh. & Associates. Kinzie. 2005). Kinzie. Whitt. and • the National Association of Independent College and Universities’ U-CAN Web site. Using student engagement as an indicator of quality was prompted by questions about whether colleges and universities were using their resources effectively to foster student learning in general and to enhance success of students from increasingly diverse backgrounds (Kuh. 2006). 2009). and other information. By the end of the 1990s. some research shows that engagement has compensatory effects on grades and persistence for students who most need a boost to performance because they are not adequately prepared academically when they start college (Cruce. As explained in more detail later.

Umbach & Kuh. Dey. law schools (Law School Survey of Student Engagement). Gellin. Pike. Kuh. This work helped to firmly root student engagement into the higher education lexicon and to feature the construct in policy discussions. Palmer. & Kuh. Carini. Thomas. 1993). the scholarly and institutional research literatures.. 2006. 2004. 2004. other instruments based on the engagement premise were developed for use by two-year colleges (Community College Survey of Student Engagement). 2008. Pike. & Schwarz. Kuh. 2006. 2005. 2007. Outcalt & Skewes-Cox. the College Student Expectations Questionnaire (CSXQ). Scores of articles. 2006a. & Gonyea.. & McClenney. and beginning college students (Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement for four-year schools. 2005. In addition to the CSEQ and its partner tool for students starting college. 2003. Greene. SelecteD reSearch finDinGS This section addresses to two key questions about student engagement: 1. New Zealand. & Hayek. Zhao & Kuh. & Kuh. Zhao. Shoup. 2006. 2008. Kuh. and the popular media in the United States. Shavelson. and their counterparts have demonstrated that student engagement can be reliably measured across large numbers of institutions and that the results from these instruments can be used by faculty and staff to improve the undergraduate experience. Macedonia. Nelson Laird. By design. Other countries such as China. In addition. Astin & Sax. The High School Survey of Student Engagement collects data about the extent to which high school students engage in a range of productive learning activities. Who benefits from engagement and why? Journal of College Student Development . making the engagement phenomenon worldwide. 2004. Building on the acceptance and widespread use of NSSE in the United States and Canada. Pike & Kuh. 1998. 2006. the best known are the Cooperative Institutional Research Program’s Entering Student Survey and its follow-up version. 2008. Gurin. Kinzie. & Carini. Pascarella et al. 2005). Mentz. Survey of Entering Student Engagement for Community Colleges). Pike. Hurtado. Kuh. Nelson Laird.Kuh decades of empirical findings documenting the importance of student engagement such as the seven good practices in undergraduate education and the press on institutions to be more accountable for student learning and its improvement led to the development of the widely used the NSSE in 1999 (Kuh. & Klein. 2000. Kuh. the College Senior Survey (Astin. 2007. 2003. 2001. Kuh & Pascarella. the NSSE. Carini. Community College Survey of Student Engagement. 2007. Marti. Chun. 2003. What is the evidence that the commonly used engagement measures are valid and reliable? and 2. books. in press). chapters. 2006. & Kuh. Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE). 2003. & Benjamin. 2007. Faculty Survey of Student Engagement). Smart. Other instruments also gather information related to some aspects of student engagement. 2006. 2008. Umbach. 2005.g. questionnaires based on NSSE are being used in Australia. 2006b. Hu & Kuh. and Spain also have experimented with instruments adapted from NSSE. Strydom. 2008. 2003. faculty (Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement. 2002. and reports have generated a treasure trove of insights into how and why engagement is important to a high quality undergraduate 686 experience in the first decade of the twenty-first century (e. 2002. 2008. Zhao. Kuh. 2003. Kuh 2001. NSSE. 2005. 2006. Klein. and South Africa (Coates. & Gurin. 2009). & Kuh. 2003. 2005.

the NSSE.. 2008. 1993. higher scores on the NSSE. including effective reasoning and problem solving. providing evidence of predictive and concurrent validity. one or more of the NSSE measures of good practices in undergraduate education consistently predicted development during the first college year on multiple objective measures of student development. 2002). The most definitive study so far examining the relationships between student engagement and some of the essential learning outcomes described by such organizations as the AAC&U (2007) is the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education. 2009. moral character.93. 2002). & Hoey 2006).83 (Kuh. Pike. 2006a. inclination to inquire and lifelong learning. 2005). different approaches have been used to measure the stability of NSSE measures at both the institution and student levels (Kuh. The test–retest correlation for all items for students who completed NSSE twice during the same administration period was a respectable . However. NSSE measures were positively linked with these liberal arts outcomes even after controlling for precollege measures of the outcomes.. To illustrate. Its psychometric properties. and supportive campus environment. Even so. In addition. with generally acceptable skewness and kurtosis estimates. Pascarella et al. 687 50 No 6 . 2006b). 2002). especially when aggregated across multiple institutions (Kuh. are acceptable. and persistence as well as objective outcome measures as shown later (Astin. Pascarella et al. leadership. intercultural effectiveness. the college experiences that matter most to desired outcomes are those that engage students at high levels in educationally purposeful activities. 2002. Ludlum. active and collaborative learning. enrollment status. At the institutional level. Using a multi-institutional sample and a pretest–posttest longitudinal design.90 and were also normally distributed.g. described in more detail in Appendix A. and so forth—the effects of precollege characteristics and experiences diminish considerably.. including reliability and validity. satisfaction. and other college experiences. 2001. once college experiences are taken into account—living on campus. enriching educational experiences. working off campus. the type of institution attended. Pascarella & Terenzini. the CCSSE. Student responses to these questions were relatively normally distributed. net of student background characteristics. Institution-specific analysis sometimes produce factor structures different than the five benchmarks or clusters of effective educational practices that NSSE uses to report its findings (e. The fifteen NSSE gains in educational and personal growth items had an alpha coefficient of . and other engagement-related tools generally are positively associated with various self-reported and institutionally reported measures of achievement. As explained.74 to . Gordon. and the results indicate that NSSE data are relatively stable. well-being. are academic challenge. and integration of learning. These are the focus of the most widely used student engagement instrument. the CSEQ.Student Engagement reliability and validity of engagement Measures Precollege characteristics such as academic achievement represented by ACT or SAT scores are strong predictors of first-year grades and persistence. (2009) found that. For example. The reliability coefficient (Cronbach alpha) for the twenty-two NSSE college activity items representing student engagement behaviors was . Kuh et al.85. student–faculty November /December 2009 ◆ vol interaction. These benchmarks. Spearman rho correlations of institutional benchmark scores from different years range from . reliability studies were conducted for the first five administrations of NSSE including the first two field tests in 1999 (Kuh.

. including those from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. 2005.. They include first-year seminars. the effects on first-year grades and persistence are even greater for lower ability students and students of color compared with White students (Kuh et al.. McCormick. suggesting that institutions should seek ways to channel student energy toward educationally effective activities. there is evidence that engagement has compensatory effects. 2006). In addition. this finding is somewhat surprising. Hu and Kuh’s (2002) study of student engagement at baccalaureategranting institutions and Greene. 2006.. This did not happen.Kuh Consistent with the pattern of findings reported by Pascarella et al. students from these groups are less likely to participate in high-impact activities during college (Kuh. although exposure to effective educational practices generally benefits all students. 2002). Journal of College Student Development . That is. Across all three inquiries. The AAC&U’s LEAP project (2007) calls for more consistent. writing-intensive courses. as with engagement measures. Three independent studies have validated the CCSSE’s use of student engagement as a proxy for student academic achievement and persistence. common intellectual experiences. however. Kuh. The compensatory effect of engagement has been noted by others (Cruce et al. Kuh. & Ethington (2007) found that all five NSSE engagement clusters of effective educational practice were significantly and positively related with students’ selfreported cognitive and noncognitive gains in learning and development. CCSSE benchmarks consistently exhibited positive links with key outcome measures such as persistence and academic achievement (McClenney. Pike. Marti. 2003. meaning that some students benefit more than others from certain activities (Pascarella & Terenzini. first in the family to go to college. especially for those who start college with two or more “risk” factors. Marti. For example. 2005). 2008). & Pike. but earn lower grades. which suggests that the various engagement measures make unique. widespread use of effective educational practices. featuring ten potentially “highimpact practices” that make a claim on student time and energy in ways that channel student effort toward productive activities and deepen learning. suppressor effects frequently reverse the directions of the observed relationships (Ethington. 2008a). Who Benefits From Engagement and Why One implication of these studies is that the greatest impact on learning and personal development during college seems to be a function of institutional policies and practices that induce higher levels of engagement across various kinds of in-class and out-ofclass educationally purposeful activities (Kuh et al. and those who are less well prepared for college (Greene et al. High-Impact Activities. the greatest effects of college experiences are conditional. As the authors explained. 2005). 2008. (2009). and McClenney’s (2008) research into student engagement in two-year colleges found an effort–outcome gap for African-American students. Thomas. positive contributions to student learning and development. That is. the effects of engagement are generally in the same positive direction for all students. when regressing an outcome measure on a set of moderately intercorrelated variables. those first in their families to attend college. Pace 1990). At the same 688 time. Pascarella & Terenzini. such as being academically underprepared. African-American students report spending more time studying than their White counterparts. learning communities. Pascarella & Terenzini. At the same time. 2005). or from low-income backgrounds. Unfortunately. the next topic to be discussed. & Adkins..

learning community students interacted more with faculty and diverse peers. including a NSSE scale of deep leaning (see Nelson Laird et al. Furthermore. 2008). related to gains in learning and development. and McCormick (2008) found with regard to the learning community experience. major. and year in school.Student Engagement service learning. 2008. These positive findings are especially noteworthy because. suggesting that this experience— which most students have in their first college year—continued to positively affect what students throughout their college years. in turn. Kuh (2008a) found that they seem to have very strong direct effects on engagement. studied more. and senior capstone experiences. rather. in addition to controlling for student and institutional characteristics.. but more positively related with student engagement at institutions with a strong arts and science emphasis. the relationships among learning community participation. diversity experiences. (2008) found that learning-community participation was not directly related to gains in learning and development. 2009). Also. and learning outcomes seem to vary according to characteristics of the institution and how the learning community is structured (NSSE. internships and other field placements. participating in a learning community seems to boost student engagement which. For example. Kuh. Thus. student– faculty research. and institutional settings” (Pike et al. the differences favoring learning community students persisted through the senior year. student engagement. In addition. Gonyea (2008) found that studying abroad not only had a positive impact on various dimensions of student development as frequently asserted (Lewin. after controlling for where students live (on or off campus) and November /December 2009 ◆ vol other factors such as gender. and engaged more frequently in higher order mental activities such as synthesizing material and analyzing problems.. linear effect on student learning does not adequately explain the complex interactions of learning community design. They also reported gaining more from their college experience. In other words. leads to a host of positive educational outcomes. 2007). For example. student characteristics. 30). they did not engage more often in other ways nor did they report greater gains on NSSE outcomes. study abroad. Zhao and Kuh (2004) found that students with a learning community experience. p. the analysis also controlled for such self-selection effects as predispositions to engage and to report greater gains after the first year of college.” were substantially more engaged in all the other educationally effective activities represented by NSSE benchmarks compared with their counterparts who had not participated in such a program. Rather than having direct effects on student learning. Moreover. Similarly. Probing more deeply into the nature of high impact activities and the characteristics of students who do them. but also was related to increased levels of engagement after the experience in the senior year. students in learning communities report higher levels of academic challenge and contact with faculty when instructors create assignments that require students integrate across the multiple courses associated with the learning community (NSSE. “a simple inoculation model in which learning community membership has a direct. participating in a learning community was related to levels of student engagement that were. whereas first-year participants in a learning community who were required to live on campus together reported more positive views of the quality of social life and more contact with faculty. in turn. learning communities seem to be less positively related with student engagement at larger and more selective institutions. Pike et al. defined as “some formal program where groups of students take two or more classes together. In other 689 50 No 6 . 2007). Similarly. This is consistent with what Pike.

What faculty think and value makes a difference with regard to the likelihood that students will participate in educationally effective practices (Kuh. 1999. even if the climate for women SMET majors remains “chilly. However. Apparently. 2008a). In stark contrast with the commonly held notion that SMET fields are often inhospitable to women. Although similar information is not. the greater the number of students who actually participate in the activity (Kuh. fifty-five percent of first-year students participate. although students who studied abroad had higher grades. 2005). or have a capstone seminar). at institutions where the typical faculty member agrees that learning communities are very important. 2005). these findings are consistent with other research suggesting that women tend to thrive in college when they survive initial entry into technical fields (Huang. & Walter. on a campus where the average faculty member believes participating in a learning community is just somewhat important. In other words. (2005) found that females in the various SMET majors were as or more engaged in effective educational practices as their male counterparts.” many women today seem to be able to persist and succeed by putting forth more academic effort. members of the campus community are more likely to devote their own time and energy to it as well as provide resources to 690 support it. Journal of College Student Development . In contrast. Mathematics. Taddese. it stands to reason that what they value can also have an indirect. That is. 2008a). positive effect on student participation in high-impact activities. Disproportionately low numbers of women persist in SMET majors. 2002. when large numbers of faculty and staff at an institution agree on the merit of an activity. and work-related skills (Zhao et al. and study abroad. including high-impact practices (Kuh. This also holds for student participation and the importance faculty place on culminating senior experiences. 2000. This view is consistent with the concept of institutional commitment student welfare posited by Braxton. study abroad participants were even more engaged after returning from their time away from the campus. Zhao et al. For example. For each activity. only three percent of first-year students become involved in this activity. better educated parents. Chen. 2007. participate in a learning community. Engineering and Technology (SMET). to my knowledge. they reported lower gains in quantitative.Kuh words. even though women in SMET majors spent more time reading and studying and less time relaxing and socializing. and devoted more effort to educationally purposeful activities in the first year of college compared with their counterparts who did not study abroad. Contrary to what might be expected. Perhaps women majoring in traditionally male-dominated fields underestimate their collegiate educational accomplishments to a greater extent than do men (Beyer. and McClendon (2004). research with a faculty member. & Nelson Laird. all of which increases the likelihood that the activities will be available to large numbers of students and that the campus culture encourages student participation in the activities. available for the views of student affairs professionals. Spade & Reese. the greater the number of faculty members at a given school who say it is important that students at their institution do a particular activity before they graduate (such as study abroad. Women in Science. analytical. Particularly noteworthy is that female SMET majors were at least as or more satisfied with their collegiate experience and they also viewed their campus environment more favorably than did their male counterparts. 1991). Hirschy. Umbach & Wawrzynski. an increase of one category in the average importance faculty place on the activity—from somewhat important to important or important to very important—corresponds to about a twenty percent increase in student participation..

). perceptions that the campus environment is supportive of students’ academic and social needs. This finding lends credence to the common belief that faculty and staff at MSIs are not only integral to fostering student success.. aspiration. and they were generally more satisfied with their educational experiences. Kinzie. 1998. indeed. November /December 2009 ◆ vol As Bridges et al. 2005). The insights from the MSIs and other schools in the Documenting Effective Educational Practices (DEEP) project (Kuh et al. Attending an MSI seems to have salutary effects in terms of engagement (Bridges. In any case. a study of twenty four-year colleges with higher than predicted graduation rates and NSSE scores. 2008). Integrating NSSE results with DEEP data produced three patterns of findings that distinguished MSIs from other institutions: high levels of student– faculty interaction. why women majors in SMET fields must expend more effort to realize the same benefits as men is worrisome and warrants additional investigation.Student Engagement Beyer & Bowden. and achievement buttressed by widespread use of effective educational practices. Students interacted more frequently with faculty and staff at HBCUs and also at Hispanic Serving Institutions. as well 691 50 No 6 . distance learners reported higher levels of academic challenge and reflective thinking—a component of deep learning as defined by Nelson Laird et al. especially after student background characteristics were controlled for the latter. participating in effective educational practices at MSIs seemed to compensate for some of the documented student academic preparation and resource inequalities that exist between MSIs and PWIs (Benitez. Chen. some MSIs such as Fayetteville State University and WinstonSalem State University require students to do so. after controlling for differences in student background characteristics. Engagement at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI). such as participating in a learning community and independent study. student–faculty interaction and supportive campus climate appear to be critical to the cultivating the third distinguishing feature—the web of policies and practices that induce students to take part in various demonstrably effective educational activities. All this suggests that MSIs are especially effective when they cultivate a culture of affirmation. explained. but may also provide more support to their students than their counterparts at predominantly White campuses. the Zhao et al. are especially instructive for understanding what these institutions do and how they foster student success. Nelson Laird. Senior distance learners perceived the learning environment to be more supportive than their campus-based counterparts and reported greater gains in practical competence. These programs and practices are not independent of. Engagement at a Distance. & Kuh. 1997). (2008). They also reported that they gained more in practical competence and in personal and social development. 2008). Gonyea. and Kuh (2008) found that distance learners— defined as those who took all their courses on-line in a given academic year—generally scored higher on the student engagement and outcomes measures than their campus-based counterparts (see also NSSE [2008]). personal and social development. meaningful contact. particularly around structured curricular components such as small freshman seminars linked to academic departments or to advising. In addition. If so. findings may understate the higher levels of engagement of women in SMET fields. For example. First-year distance learners reported interacting more with faculty and engaging more in enriching educational experiences.. and a network of intrusive educationally effective policies and practices (Bridges et al. but exist and are effective because they bring faculty and students into more frequent.

2006. most entering students expected to participate in co-curricular activities. financial advising. but thirty-two percent spent no time in these activities during their first year. while spending only about half the amount of time preparing for class that faculty say is needed to do well.Kuh as in general education. the same is true for participating in active and collaborative learning activities. Expectations. about three fifths expected to spend more than fifteen hours a week studying. 2008). That is. 2007.. In only one area of engagement—active and collaborative learning—were distance learners significantly less involved. Precollege Dispositions. but only two fifths did so (Kuh et al. pp. Working during college is now the norm for underJournal of College Student Development . after the first three weeks of class. Put another way. Kuh et al. this became the case (NSSE. twenty-seven percent did not know about tutoring or financial aid advising (Center for Community College Student Engagement. Employment and Engagement. More than one third never met with an academic advisor (CCSSE. and Student Engagement. Disposition is not destiny. One area is relaxing and socializing where one quarter of students said they would spend more than fifteen hours per week with twenty-seven percent actually doing so. Three of ten first-year students reported working just hard enough to get by. 2008. 2005). Kinzie. however. 17–18). between forty and fifty percent of firstyear students never used career planning. reported greater gains in practical competence and generation education. or academic tutoring services. Kuh. sadly. The shortfall between expectations and behavior extends to life outside the classroom as well. and were also more satisfied overall with their educational experiences. This suggests. To a nontrivial degree. NSSE. 2009). Studies using the Beginning College Student Survey of Student Engagement–NSSE and CSXQ–CSEQ generally show that firstyear students expect to do more during the first-year of college than they actually do (Gonyea. thirty-two percent of students were unaware that their institution had academic skills labs for their use. 2005. 2005. & Nelson Laird. the Survey of Entering Student Engagement for two-year college students focuses on the first three weeks of college and assesses practices that are likely to engage and encourage students to persist to attain their educational goals. Kuh. the results favoring distance education students may be a function of age and maturity. The CSXQ and the Beginning College Student Survey of Student Engagement asks first-year students as they are starting college about their academic and extracurricular involvements in high school as well as the importance they place on participating in educationally purposeful activities in the first year of college (Kuh. that “wellcrafted first-year experience programs and individual effort can allow students to exceed expectations” (NSSE. although older distance learners were much less likely to participate in active and collaborative learning and had fewer enriching experiences and less contact with faculty. In this same vein. In some areas. Kuh et al. they study two to six hours less per week on average 692 than they thought they would when starting college. 2007). First tested in 2008. students do pretty much what they thought they would. they were more engaged in deep learning activities. 2005. More than half predicted they would have little contact with their instructors outside the classroom and. Even so. some students who do not expect to interact with faculty frequently do so. At two-year colleges. Dispositions to engage are important because they influence students’ willingness to engage in different activities during college. nine of ten first-year students expected to earn grades of B or better. 2005)... 2005). Cruce. For example.

whether. seniors who worked more than twenty hours per week did not differ significantly from seniors who did not work in terms of their academic achievement. especially for full-time students. Given the positive relationships November /December 2009 ◆ vol between work and several measures of student engagement and between engagement and selected educational outcomes. This was a relatively small group about which more must be learned. 1993. working students reported higher levels of active and collaborative learning. Heavy work commitments on or off campus seemed to dampen engagement for part-time students. and student engagement were taken into account. students who worked part time on campus also had substantially more interaction with faculty members. however. 2005). For example. At two-year colleges. and students’ perceptions of the campus environment were negatively related. McCormick. working off campus. with seventy-six percent of first-year students and eighty-four percent of seniors doing so.. As with previous research (Astin. The grade point average penalty was about twice as much for the same amount of work off campus. Although students who worked more hours tended to spend less time preparing for class. even working more than twenty hours a week was positively related to seniors’ grades. 2007). working on or off campus did not seem to negatively affect other forms of engagement. Pascarella & Terenzini. The greatest net engagement advantage was for students who reported working both on and off campus. 1998). Moreover. and how much a student worked. In addition. or students working more than twenty hours per week. and McKinley (2009) found that a substantial proportion of students worked more than twenty hours per week. Kuh. whereas those working more than twenty hours per week on campus had slightly lower grades. surprisingly. fiftyseven percent of all students worked more than twenty hours per week (CCSSE. the benefits of work during college seem to be mediated by student engagement. perhaps because their jobs provided them with opportunities to apply what they are learning. Among first-generation students. Nearly half of full-time first-year students and three quarters of seniors attending fouryear colleges and universities responding to the 2008 NSSE reported working for pay. net of student and institutional characteristics. However. those who worked on campus generally benefitted more than their counterparts who worked off campus. The numbers were even higher for part-time students. some of the stronger positive effects on engagement were for full-time students working more than twenty hours per week on campus. students who worked off campus. full-time students who worked on campus for up to ten hours per week had slightly higher self-reported grades. those students who worked part time on campus had significantly higher grades than students who did not work. Although working during college had variable effects on grades depending on where. In fact. working either on or off campus was positively related to several dimensions of student engagement. Moore. In addition. Consistent with the findings of McCormick et al. When the mediating relationships among work.Student Engagement graduates in the United States (King. which could be interpreted perhaps 693 50 No 6 . For first-year students. working more than twenty hours a week was negatively related with grades. Pike. seniors with part-time jobs off campus tended to have higher grade point averages than students who did not work. one fifth of full-time first-years and two fifths of full-time seniors worked more than twenty hours per week. and Kuh (in press) found that. with many employed both on and off campus. Pike et al. grades. (2009) tentatively concluded that student engagement plays a mediating role on work and grades.

[We need to] look at exceptions and think about why some forms of involvement are negatively related to development. political involvement is negatively involved with retention. it’s not a uniformly positive experience. the strength of these relationships varies as demonstrated by the review of the selected research findings just presented. skills that are needed to function effectively in the twenty-first century work environment (AAC&U. 2009) Journal of College Student Development . Hummel. service learning or capstone courses can look very different within or between majors. Indeed. compared with White students. 2009). learning communities take different forms (Inkelas. these studies suggest that some of the shibboleths and conclusions about the negative effects of work on student achievement from earlier studies may no longer hold. in other words. 2003)—the ability to optimally convert the amount of time one spends on task into the desired outcome whether it be grades or something else of value. Some are more effective than others in terms of fostering student engagement and desired outcomes (Kuh. They also pointed out that it is possible that seniors with higher grades work more hours. What More Do We neeD to learn about StuDent enGaGeMent? Although much is known about the nature and extent of the effects of student engagement for different groups of students on a variety of outcome measures. For example. Many engaged students leave college prematurely. 2008a. (cited in Wolf-Wendel et al. the most widely used measure of engagement. 2004). achievement.. Pope. As Astin framed the challenge: We have not done enough work on the varieties of engagement and what kinds of involvement are positive. or the timing. Another plausible explanation is that how an educational practice is implemented varies considerably. and structure of internships and other field placements such as student teaching. Equally important. In this section I raise five questions. Some of these equivocal or disappointing findings may be due to differences in learning productivity on the part of the student (Hu & Kuh. What are the Key factors and features of Student participation in Different activities that lead to Differential outcomes? Although engagement. Brower. For example. working itself does not necessarily lead to higher grades. 2008. 2007).. Finally. and satisfaction. Even within a single campus. 2009). Crawford. and persistence are positively linked. duration. and some who seem by standard measures to be disengaged complete the baccalaureate degree in timely fashion. supervising student–faculty research (Boyd & Wesemann. 694 including earning lower grades (Greene et al. is a short questionnaire and cannot measure all the behaviors and institutional conditions that may influence engagement. NSSE. satisfaction. Hu & Kuh. much is left to discover and better understand. NSSE. and we need to learn more about how their various features affect aspects of student engagement and outcomes (Swaner & Brownell. as do approaches to study abroad (Lewin.Kuh as a compensatory effect of engagement on grades. 2009). many students of color expend more time and energy on some activities but report benefitting less. Inkelas & Weisman. Taken together. 2007). NSSE 2007). 2002). 2003. employment may provide opportunities for students to practice and become more competent in collaboration and teamwork. & Zeller. or related. the answers to which would be instructive to future efforts to promote student engagement and success in college.

the results of student engagement studies were generally low stakes in that they were typically used internally. do distance learners interpret the meaning of engagement questions the same way that campus-based students do? Or do some questions take on different meanings in different contexts? Are the effects on such outcomes as intellectual gains. and the Cooperative Institutional Research November /December 2009 ◆ vol how can Student engagement instruments be used responsibly for benchmarking. Given the costconscious environment. Because the standard NSSE and CCSSE administrations are cross-sectional. taking into account whether students who participate in them are more likely to persist and graduate. Occasionally the results were shared externally with accreditors. many students do less than they expected in terms of participating in educationally effective activities. in the absence of precollege measures it is not possible to infer with a high level of confidence the influence of the institution on engagement independent of student background and predilections (Astin & Lee. can institutions Systematically alter Students’ Dispositions to engage? Students start college predisposed to perform or behave in certain ways (Pascarella. As noted. and improvement? Up until the turn of this century. The additional revenues realized from tuition and other fees from students who stay in school could offset what may be marginally higher costs of some of these practices. the CSXQ. sometimes for improvement purposes.and early college socialization experiences to induce them to take part in beneficial activities. and personal and social development of student–faculty interactions and active and collaborative learning activities more or less powerful in the on-line environment? Answers to these questions and others are needed to ensure that on-line programs are at least comparable to and even outperform campus-based programs and provide high-quality educational opportunities for students who otherwise might be excluded from postsecondary education. For example. such as making available a small writing. it was hard to stimulate interest in such information without a frame of reference such as having the results from comparable questions from multiple institutions with similar missions and 695 50 No 6 . In large part.Student Engagement What is the cost of Demonstrably effective educational practices relative to other approaches? High-impact activities seem to have unusually powerful effects on all students. But some students also do more. accountability. studies are needed to determine their cost–benefit ratios. Knowing the costs of high-impact practices and student success interventions such as mentoring programs and early warning systems could help institutional decision makers to decide whether to reallocate resources and invest in them.or inquiryintensive first-year seminar for every student and subsidizing study away experiences. but rarely with others. We need to discover how institutions can productively use such tools as the Beginning College Student Survey of Student Engagement. the Survey of Entering Student Engagement. under What conditions. persistence. 2003). What are the Distinctive features of engagement in on-line environments? The results are promising in terms of the merits of distance learning. but often just for institutional research. but they also beg additional questions. Program with other information to identify students who are more or less disposed to engage and design pre. assessment. if any. 2001).

2006). Every year. Kinzie & Pennipede. As student populations have become more diverse and participation in postsecondary education became all but universal.. especially illustrations of how and to what ends campuses “close the loop”—demonstrate the changes that the institution has made in response to its student engagement results and the impact of these changes on student engagement and learning outcomes. and accountability are desirable ends. Especially important is that faculty. student affairs professionals. transparency. Until recent years. The first step is to make certain various constituents become familiar with what the student engagement construct represents and its empirical and conceptual foundations.g. 2007a. At the same time. 2007b). we must be vigilant to ward off misuse or misinterpretation of student engagement results that can lead to problematic and unacceptable outcomes (Kuh. simplifying student experience and institutional performance by comparing schools on only one or two indicators or presuming schools with high graduation rates have high engagement scores. Although some thoughtful work has been done to help guide appropriate use of student engagement results for various purposes (Borden & Pike. & Schuh. As noted near the beginning of this article. 1999). the dominant institutional philosophy was that the student had to adjust to the institution to succeed. 2008. Journal of College Student Development . “Strong performance on engagement. systematic monitoring of such uses are needed to avoid. Kuh et al. 2007. & Associates. Indeed. To illustrate. but low engagement and unacceptable educational outcomes. and institutional leaders agree as to who shares the responsibility for student engagement. 696 and graduation measures are certainly not mutually exclusive.Kuh characteristics. Kuh 2007b. “engaging students in active learning” is one of the principles of good practice in student affairs (Blimling. policy makers and institutional leaders increasingly recognized that institutions must also change teaching and learning approaches and cultivate campus cultures that welcome and affirm students as well as faculty and staff from historically underrepresented backgrounds (Kuh. Manning. Whitt. 2004. Here I offer some observations about what student affairs professionals can do to help their institutions use student engagement data to promote student success. 2008b.. Kinzie. in press. additional examples are discovered about how institutions are using their student engagement results to improve the quality of the undergraduate experience (e. Improvement. p. McCormick. achievement. a confluence of factors in the late 1990s increased interest on the part of stakeholders both on and off campus in student engagement and related data about the student experience. The development of the NSSE and the CCSSE was in large part intended to respond to these conditions. which is the focus of this paper. but each says something different about institutional performance and student development” (Kuh. Elsewhere. Their widespread use along with other tools made it possible to compare institutional performance on these measures. iMplicationS for StuDent affairS The student affairs profession has long embraced various iterations of the student engagement construct. 2009). 2007a). for example. 2009) and more are needed. I and others have discussed what student affairs professionals can do with others on campus to promote higher levels of student engagement (Kinzie & Kuh. although not always to the extent some groups preferred (National Commission on the Future of Higher Education. 2005. 2006). 33). an institution can have a high graduation rate.

those students who are highly involved in leadership positions. student affairs staff collaborate with others to periodically collect and review data about the effectiveness of policies and practices with an eye toward insuring that what is enacted is of acceptable quality and consistent with the institution’s espoused priorities and values (Kuh et al. The students at greatest risk of leaving college sometime after the second year are almost identical in terms of demographic characteristics to those who leave before that point. One promising approach are the Webbased templates that allow student affairs staff to send electronic prompts to students to encourage them to take advantage of institutional resources and report on their use of the resources. Others may be prompted by institutional strategic priorities. It is essential that student affairs extend its data collection to the experiences of students that span all the years of baccalaureate study. Gardner. & Associates. Not enough is known about the all-but-invisible majority with whom most student affairs staff have little or no contact. One of the reasons so many college impact studies show equivocal or mixed findings is because the program or practice being evaluated was not implemented effectively. 2005).. By identifying the gaps between the expectations that different groups of students have for college and their level of engagement at different points in the first year of college. socioeconomic status. success rates of developmental coursework and supplemental instruction. 2008a) actually are having the desired effects. For example. Another critical step is making sure the programs that research show to be potentially to be high impact (Kuh. engagement is a two-way street. transfer student success. student affairs professionals can help institutions target their efforts to create educationally effective programs for new students (Miller. Another way student affairs professionals can enhance student engagement and success is by championing and themselves consistently 697 50 No 6 . Many of these students leave college without completing their degree. Along with student engagement data. perhaps. student personal and professional development. 2005).Student Engagement Simply put. and citizenship. At high-performing colleges and universities.. Both institutions and students have roles to play in creating the conditions for engagement and for taking advantage of engagement opportunities. student satisfaction. gender. Such examinations are sometimes triggered by selfstudies to prepare for a regional accreditation visit. & Barefoot. Upcraft. November /December 2009 ◆ vol Many campuses know a good deal about their first-year students and graduating seniors. 2005. other commonly used indicators of success to which student affairs should attend include course completion rates. student retention and graduation rates. the University of Michigan conducted several major studies between the mid-1980s and 2000 to monitor the impact of initiatives intended to improve the quality of the undergraduate experience (Kuh et al. Deciding what to measure is critical because whatever student affairs collects data about is what the division of student affairs will probably report and. Schuh. first-generation status. and transfer status. even target resources for. such as race/ethnicity. The ability to leverage significant institutional change to increase student success will be severely limited unless student affairs has adequate data systems to use to evaluate its performance and that of students with different characteristics and backgrounds. including some who are only a semester or two away from fulfilling graduation requirements. and those who struggle academically and socially. Bender. Each campus must determine the most appropriate balance. 2005).

only small numbers of students take part in high-impact activities and. Campus employment is a target of opportunity in this regard. For example. and playing intercollegiate athletics to name a few. students do other things during college that likely confer similar benefits—writing for the student newspaper. and enjoy the intellectual and monetary advantages associated with the completion of the baccalaureate degree. In addition to the high-impact activities identified by the AAC&U (2007) and described by Kuh (2008a). But these opportunities—with the exception of working on campus—too often are limited to small numbers of students. acquire the skills and competencies demanded by the challenges of the twenty-first century. quality of effort. and involvement—are supported by decades of research showing positive associations with a range of desired outcomes of college. being a leader for a student organization or campus committee. This would go a long way to helping those students who most need it to compensate for shortcomings in their academic preparation as well as cultivate a campus culture that fosters student success. engagement increases the odds that any student—educational and social background notwithstanding—will attain his or her educational and personal objectives. Most traditionalage undergraduates—especially first. Working on campus could become a developmentally powerful experience for more students if student affairs professionals who supervise students in their employ intentionally created some of the same conditions that characterize the high-impact activities Kuh (2008a) described. Student affairs could take the lead in monitoring student participation in these and other effective educational activities—akin to what Hurtado (2007) called “the opportunity structure”—and work with academic administrators and faculty colleagues to find ways to scale them up to create enough opportunities so that every student has a real chance to participate. the gateway to a lifetime of continuous learning and personal development. integrative learning. even fewer students from historically underrepresented groups participate. But after a few sessions. working in an office or program on campus.and second-year students—do not often or ever do this on their own. To have the optimal impact. and all would benefit from hearing their peers talk about these important aspects of their college life.Kuh using what the research shows are effective educational practices. Initial discussions about these matters will predictably be replete with sometimes awkward silences. after all. students will have had enough practice to do more of this without too much prompting. At the same time. especially for students from low-income family backgrounds and others who have been historically underserved. participating in an honors program. Moreover. these practices must be implemented at a high level of quality. as noted. Engaging in educationally purposeful activities helps to level the playing field. And this is. Although the engagement construct is widely accepted and used today. a final WorD Student engagement and its historical antecedents—time on task. especially on large campuses. bringing small groups of students together monthly to discuss what they are learning on the job and how it relates to their studies would 698 give students practice in reflecting on and integrating these experiences. there are limits to what student affairs professionals and faculty can realistically do to help students overcome years of educational disadvantages. the kind of experience that helps students to develop the capacity for deep. At too many institutions. in the future more complex iterations of the underJournal of College Student Development .

embrace.Student Engagement lying properties will emerge. better ways to define and measure student engagement. Correspondence concerning this article to be addressed to George Kuh: kuh@indiana. Over the past twenty-five years. student affairs professionals have traditionally been among the first on campus to acknowledge. skills. dispositions. and competencies demanded by future circumstances. These new conceptualizations and operationalizations will more precisely identify the teaching and learning conditions that are even more effective for helping increasingly diverse students acquire the knowledge. and attempt to apply research-based innovative practices. it is imperative the student affairs professionals remain open to alternative interpretations of what at this moment in time seem to be nearparadigmatic understandings of what matters to student success and enthusiastically welcome evidence that points to other. To meet our obligations to students and institutions.edu November /December 2009 ◆ vol 50 No 6 699 .

these student behaviors and institutional features are some of the more powerful contributors to learning and personal development. collaborating with others in solving problems or mastering difficult material prepares students for the messy. related to academic program) • Number of assigned textbooks. or book-length packs of course readings • Number of written papers or reports of twenty pages or longer. number of written papers or reports of between five and nineteen pages.) Appendix continues 700 Journal of College Student Development . unscripted problems they will encounter daily during and after college. and number of written papers or reports of fewer than five pages • Coursework emphasizing analysis of the basic elements of an idea. arguments. colleges and universities promote high levels of student achievement by emphasizing the importance of academic effort and setting high expectations for student performance. more complex interpretations and relationships • Coursework emphasizing the making of judgments about the value of information.. co-workers. or methods • Coursework emphasizing application of theories or concepts to practical problems or in new situations • Working harder than you thought you could to meet an instructor’s standards or expectations • Campus environment emphasizing time studying and on academic work active and collaborative learning Students learn more when they are intensely involved in their education and asked to think about what they are learning in different settings. etc. • Preparing for class (studying. reading. • Asked questions in class or contributed to class discussions • Made a class presentation • Worked with other students on projects during class • Worked with classmates outside of class to prepare class assignments • Tutored or taught other students • Participated in a community-based project as part of a regular course • Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with others outside of class (students. or experiences into new. nSSe benchmarks the benchmarks are based on forty-two key questions from the national Survey of Student engagement (nSSe) that capture many of the most important aspects of the student experience. books. family members. rehearsing. etc. level of academic challenge challenging intellectual and creative work is central to student learning and collegiate quality. information.Kuh appenDix a. experience or theory • Coursework emphasizing synthesis and organizing of ideas. writing.

family. social. etc. technology facilitates collaboration between peers and instructors. etc. • Discussed grades or assignments with an instructor • Talked about career plans with a faculty member or advisor • Discussed ideas from readings or classes with faculty members outside of class • Worked with faculty members on activities other than coursework (committees. and racial or ethnic backgrounds • Participate in a learning community or some other formal program where groups of students take two or more classes together Supportive campus environment Students perform better and are more satisfied at colleges that are committed to their success and cultivate positive the working and social relations among different groups on campus.and out-of-class augment academic programs.Student Engagement Student–faculty interaction Students learn firsthand how experts think about and solve practical problems by interacting with faculty members inside and outside the classroom. co-op experience. political opinions. thesis. student government.) • Received prompt feedback from faculty on your academic performance (written or oral) • Worked with a faculty member on an outside research project enriching educational experiences complementary learning opportunities in in. as a result. • Campus environment provides the support you need to help you succeed academically • Campus environment helps you cope with your no-academic responsibilities (work. student-life activities. and guides for continuous. capstone course. project. etc. internships. orientation. or clinical assignment • Community service or volunteer work • Foreign language coursework • Study abroad • Independent study or self-designed major • Culminating senior experience (comprehensive exam. or personal values • Serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity • Using electronic technology to discuss or complete an assignment • Campus environment encouraging contact among students from different economic.) • Campus environment provides the support you need to thrive socially • Quality of relationships with other students • Quality of relationships with faculty members • Quality of relationships with administrative personnel and offices November /December 2009 ◆ vol 50 No 6 701 .) • Practicum. field experience. • Participating in co-curricular activities (organizations. life-long learning. mentors. Diversity experiences teach students valuable things about themselves and others. their teachers become role models. community service. and senior capstone courses provide opportunities to integrate and apply knowledge. sports. internship. publications. etc.) • Serious conversations with students of different religious beliefs.

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