When designed and implemented with equitable outcomes in mind, more engaged and active teaching and learning approaches—known as “high-impact practices” (HIPs) —can benefit college students across the board, especially students of color and adults, a Lumina-supported project shows.In their report on the project’s efforts in Tennessee, “Scaling High-Impact Practices to Improve Community College Student Outcomes,” Jessa Valentine and Derek Price used the state’s data to examine HIPs at five Tennessee community colleges.

Among the findings:

  • Sixty-four percent of students participated in a HIP during the first academic term.
  • A higher percentage of Black (66 percent) and Hispanic or Latino (69 percent) students participated.
  • Retention increased 22 percent for adult students, 23 percent for Black students, and 8 percent for Latino students participating in HIPs.
  • HIPs are linked to improved outcomes for a multitude of shorter-term academic outcomes. including credit accumulation and gatekeeper course completion.

Over the past decade, community colleges in Tennessee have implemented a wide-ranging set of tools to help students find and complete high-quality, post-high school education and training. The state has integrated HIPs into its strategic plan and made it a core component of Tennessee’s “Momentum Year” work.

Lumina provided support for a study of HIPs and a guide for educators developed by the National Association of System Heads, which coordinated the HIPs initiative, and this new report is a companion to that work. For me, the report offers three important takeaways that can help ensure equitable access to effective HIPs:

  1. Give faculty the gift of time
    The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) intentionally provided faculty leaders with the release time to do course redesign. They also gave faculty opportunities to build their capacity to design HIPs, develop HIP taxonomies, and engage with other faculty through learning communities. Faculty at many institutions and especially at community colleges are already overtaxed, so providing them with this time will cultivate faculty buy-in and engagement, as well as help foster faculty leadership of HIPs.
  2. Embed HIPs as a requirement – especially in pathways with significant numbers of minoritized students
    Typically, HIPs are optional activities. TBR increased participation in First-Year Experience (FYE) by making it a requirement. Stewart and Nicolazzo remind us that, “one’s engagement in community service and volunteerism as a HIP necessitates a level of leisure time, money, and an ability to access local organizations; these are luxuries to which many multiply marginalized students do not always have.” This study shows what happens when HIPs are intentionally built into a program or pathway. It is also worth noting that TBR intentionally selected institutions that had high concentrations of Black and Latino students. The caveat here is that it is unethical to require HIPs unless they are designed with marginalized students at the center. For example, it is problematic to mandate an FYE course that fails to incorporate culturally responsive pedagogy or accounts for competing time demands faced by working adult students. We must ensure that these engaged practices improve the educational outcomes for marginalized students without subjecting them to greater harm.
  3. Require the use of administrative data through system-driven strategies
    TBR requires campuses to document HIP participation using the system’s administrative data system, Banner. The system also benefitted from HIP taxonomies developed by faculty to assure that practices being tracked are indeed implemented with fidelity and the development of a system-wide assessment tool. This systematic approach to tracking HIP participation and assessing learning enables more consistent and rigorous analysis of the relationship between HIP participation and student success than can occur with student self-reports. More importantly, it provides a system-wide data infrastructure for monitoring equitable student success. If you want to manage it, you need to be able to measure it.

The accomplishments of the five Tennessee community colleges involved in the Lumina-NASH project are noteworthy and should serve as a model. Nonetheless, there is still much work to be done with regard to high-impact practices—both in practice and research. Adult learners with increased personal, professional, and community responsibilities may not be able to participate in traditional HIPs. We need to reimagine these practices in ways that enhance their accessibility and effectiveness among minoritized students and adult learners.

I also urge researchers to study how racialized experiences limit student engagement among marginalized students. Researchers also need to examine which practices minoritized students themselves deem educationally purposeful. Put another way, more research should be done with minoritized students rather than on them. Given the barriers that minoritized students and adult learners in community colleges face, it is imperative that they be placed at the center, in research and in practice.

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