What Spurs Students to Stay in College and Learn? Good Teaching Practices and Diversity

Good teaching and exposure to students from diverse backgrounds are some of the strongest predictors of whether freshmen return for a second year of college and improve their critical-thinking skills, say two prominent researchers.

Patrick T. Terenzini, a professor of higher education at Pennsylvania State University, and Ernest T. Pascarella, a co-director of the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa, spoke to an audience of chief academic and fund-raising officers convened by the Council of Independent Colleges here on Sunday.

The two men are co-authors of a highly influential book, How College Affects Students, and they sought on Sunday to synthesize what recent research says about student learning, while also weighing in on recent controversies in higher-education research.

Mr. Pascarella based his observations on the findings from the first year of the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, which followed thousands of students at 19 liberal-arts colleges. It recorded the background information of entering freshmen, asked them about their experiences, recorded their outcomes after their first year, and collected the same information again after their fourth year.

Good teaching was not defined by test results. Instead, its attributes were identified on a nine-item scale, which included student appraisals of how well the teacher organized material, used class time, explained directions, and reviewed the subject matter.

The likelihood that freshmen returned to college for their sophomore year increased 30 percent when students observed those teaching practices in the classroom. And it held true even after controlling for their backgrounds and grades. “These are learnable skills that faculty can pick up,” Mr. Pascarella said. <Read more.>

Via Dan Berrett, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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