In 2008, George Kuh and his associates at the Association of American Colleges & Universities published a book on the importance of high impact practices (HIPs) in education and how they can lead to increased rates of student retention, graduation rates, and engagement. Since that time, institutions around the world have begun to take more interest in the importance of hands-on experience, engaging programs, and educational communities, rather than just tests and lectures.

Studies have shown that institutions that participate in high impact practices benefit from:

  • Increased retention and graduation rates
  • More positive attitudes about college, faculty, learning, and students
  • Greater engagement in deep learning and self-reported gains in learning

Not surprisingly, the institutions that rank highest for the best first-year experience programs utilize a number of HIPs.

The ten high impact practices outlined by George Kuh and his associates include:

  1. First Year Seminars and Experiences

Almost all universities and colleges have developed a first-year orientation for students, and many have begun to build out first year experiences and seminars that tie into the orientation and support the student emotionally, socially, and intellectually during their first year.

First year seminars or experiences might include a group trip before the school year or first-year interest groups that meet once a week. For example, Hamline University offers a first-year seminar that includes 16-18 first year students, focuses on a specific topic, and includes an assigned mentor as well as a campus colleague that helps lead the student and stay engaged with them throughout the schoolyear.

  1. Common Intellectual Experiences

Common intellectual experiences take learning beyond the classroom. This can overlap with many other HIPs (like First year seminars and Learning Communities), and it can take many forms ranging from a common reading program before the semester starts to required courses for all incoming freshmen. Common Intellectual experiences can also be more complex, like CU Denver’s University Honors and Leadership Program.

  1. Learning Communities

Learning communities allow students to collaborate across courses and encourage “students to answer big questions that matter beyond the classroom”. Learning communities typically bring students together through one common topic or theme and have a collaborative or research focus. For example, Elon University offers a variety of different communities based on interests and lifestyles including STEM, International, Innovation, Gender and Sexuality, and many more.

  1. Writing-Intensive Courses

Writing Intensive Courses integrate writing at all levels of instruction and emphasize frequent feedback and revisions. This allows students to improve their compositional skills as well as learn to iterate based on feedback. Many universities, like Harvard, provide faculty with guidelines on what factors should be incorporated for a successful writing-intensive course.

  1. Collaborative Assignments and Projects

Collaborative learning gives students the opportunity to work and solves problems with a team, as well as understand different perspectives and insights from students with different backgrounds. Collaborative projects should be hands-on, like Luther College’s Environmental Podcasting project, where students worked in pairs to produce podcasts about current environmental issues.

  1. Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate research is crucial to getting students involved in an investigation and research process early on in order to solve real-world questions. Mentored research, in which students and faculty work together to solve problems in their discipline, allows students to think analytically and critically, while increasing overall engagement (and in turn decreasing retention). For example, the University of Oregon offers a Summer Program for Undergraduate Research, which includes rigorous immersion in a mentored, high profile science research project.

  1. Diversity/Global Learning

In a global economy, global learning is extremely important to a student’s higher education experience. It allows students to explore cultures, life experiences, worldviews, and perspectives that differ from their own. Global learning experiences often include study abroad programs, but they can also include on-campus programs and courses that focus on diversity. For example, the Rochester Institute of Technology offers an array of different courses through its Diversity Education Programs, including an Inclusive Leadership Course for students.

  1. Service Learning, Community Based Learning

According to the AACU, the key element in Service Learning/Community Based Learning is to give students the opportunity to both apply what they are learning in real-world settings and then reflect in a classroom setting on their service experiences. Belmont University has an entire program dedicated to different types of service learning opportunities including:

  • Accounting students helping neighborhood residents with computer skills
  • Nursing students provide health fairs to specific populations
  • Chemistry students facilitate a hands-on workshop for local girl-scouts to inspire interests in STEM
  1. Internships

Studies have shown that internships directly contribute to career success for students after college, and even their success and advancement in their careers well after graduation.

A study funded by the NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition found that the value of the internship experience was the biggest factor when it came to hiring students after college. Value could be determined by the duration of the internship, the structure of the program, and the quality of the intern’s performance in the role.

  1. Capstone Courses & Projects

“Capstone courses” or “senior projects” allows students to showcase the knowledge they’ve learned throughout their college education and apply it to solve a real-world problem. Final projects can include things like a business plan, a research paper, a performance, or a portfolio with a specific theme or showcasing their best work. Capstone projects can also be used to show future employers that the student is able to articulate and apply what they’ve learned. Some projects can even turn into business opportunities for students, like the Cal Poly alumni that worked on “Juice Club”, which later turned into Jamba Juice.

Since Kuh published his findings, universities and colleges around the US have rolled out high-impact practices to achieve a variety of different goals, including increased retention and graduation rates, increased full-time employment rates after graduation, and a better sense of community among both faculty/staff and students. According to Kuh, one of the most important parts of high impact practices is the context and quality of implementation.

So how should a university go about successfully implementing high impact practices? Whether your institution already has practices in place or it is looking to start them, we outline six ways to implement high impact practices or strengthen them if they are already in place.


How to Implement HIPs

  1. Create a solution for the problem your HIP is trying to solve.

High impact practices can help with a variety of problems that colleges and universities face. For example, low rates of degree completion may be a problem you want to solve. With this problem in mind, you can then take a look at the different high impact practices and identify which can be used to solve your problem. Guttman Community College (previously City University of New York) implemented an integrated learning community model, or a learning community that deals with all touchpoints with the student both inside and outside the classroom, to help improve their national three-year graduation rate of 13.6%, less than the already low national rate of 19%. By developing a model, and not just a specific program, they were able to outline the entire framework so that faculty and staff could use it as a reference guide every step along the way. Utilizing industry research on best practices for student success, they set out to create a program where every aspect was intentional. The new model featured a highly-structured curriculum based on a set of established college-wide learning outcomings, an instructional model based on collaborative teams of faculty and student support staff, and assessment process that ensured continuous learning and iterations for improvement. After they launched the model, they received feedback on a specific work session program that it was too unfocused to be helpful. Using their assessment process, they iterated on the program and developed more guided practices to emphasize specific skills students should work on.


  1. Establish a framework.

The best way to create a sustainable program is the create a framework that can be used as a guide. Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis developed a guide to help with implementation, assessment, and improvement for its HIPs. They utilized taxonomies for major high-impact practices including their Summer Bridge program, First-Year Seminars, Internships, Service Learning Courses, Themed Learning Communities, and Mentoring. These taxonomies act as a resource for faculty and staff, allowing them to help improve course design as well as ensure the quality of HIP experiences are sustained. By creating a written guide that can be distributed throughout the campus, you can ensure that your practices can be supported and carried on with future faculty and staff as well. Remember, the guide should be a fluid resource, that is iterated on and improved based on feedback and experience.


  1. Establish a way to measure whether students have achieved the goals that were established.

Kuh notes that frequent, timely, and constructive feedback is a key element of HIPs. In order to successfully implement this, it’s important to build in feedback periods for both faculty/staff and students. For example, when planning a first-year student orientation, you can build in steps to gather feedback from students, as well as feedback from the staff working on the program. By gathering constructive feedback, you can adjust your orientation program to ensure it is meeting the goals you originally established. Another high-impact practices that needs frequent feedback to be successful is internships. Elon University realizes the importance of frequent feedback from a mentor or supervisor throughout an internship, so they built out a guide that incorporates feedback and student/supervisor communication into the internship program. But how can you ensure feedback is manageable and scalable? Coursera offers a great online course that outlines ways to make feedback sustainable.


  1. Utilize partners for learning.

According to the ACCU, a recent study in the California University System’s STEM Collaboratives project found that faculty members felt a lack of infrastructure to support their utilization of the practices. The key to sustaining HIPs is continued support of the faculty and staff that are implementing the practices. Many HIPs including undergraduate research, community based learning, and internships require partners to make them successful. When planning for HIPs, partners should not only be identified, but a plan for outreach and how to maintain the partner relationships should also be established. Partners might include administrators from departments across campus that can influence resource availability, corporate partners that provide internships, community partners that offer service-based learning opportunities, research institutions that can help with assessment of programs, and even peer institutions. For example, the Bonner Founding created the Bonner High-Impact Initiative, which engages institutionally-based teams from nine different institutions to gather over a three-year period and share their findings regarding the effect that current high-impact practices have on student engagement. They also planned to incorporate an additional eight to ten institutions each year, allowing them to gather data from over 28 institutions.


  1. Collaborate through cross-discipline teams.

In order for high-impact practices to be implemented successfully, campus wide buy-in is important. By forming teams from different departments, students can be supported from a 360 approach. To provide guidance and support for HIPs, California State University, Fullerton formed a task force and model called REACH (research, experiential learning, active learning, community, and human exploration). This task force has worked to establish a baseline of student participation (essential to allow for assessment), validate their current HIPs, and promote more paths towards experiential learning. Since they’ve instituted this, they’ve seen stronger student retention and graduation rates. In 2015, they shared their process for building a model for identifying and evaluating HIPs when it comes to university learning outcomes, retention, and graduation.


  1. Make outreach to first-generation and under-represented students a priority.

While many colleges and universities have begun to implement HIPs, there is a lower amount of first-generation students, students of color, and part-time students that are participating in them. This means that further outreach is needed to encourage these students to participate and engage in HIPs. The University of California system implemented a program where faculty on campuses wear t-shirts and buttons to identify themselves as first-generation graduates, making it easier for first-generation students to reach out to faculty and staff that have gone through similar experiences. Strategies like academic advising tailored to first-generation specific needs and financial assistance for off-campus programs can help HIPs become more accessible to under-represented students.