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Madeline Goldman, Virginia Commonwealth University

Madeline Goldman.jpgVirginia Commonwealth University (VCU) has become one of the leading institutions in the United States to eliminate graduation gaps for underrepresented minority (URM) students. As an institution, we have had a 15 percent increase in graduation rates for URM students over a ten year period. We have also seen significant gains in four- and six-year graduation rates for first-time, full-time degree seeking students. Our graduation rates are well above the national average. There have been key milestones to VCU’s student success initiatives such as the use of several high impact practices. High impact practices are powerful because they require applied, hands-on, integrative, and often collaborative learning experiences. Examples of high impact practices include first-year seminars, common intellectual experiences or core curriculum, learning communities, writing intensive courses, collaborative assignments and projects, study away/global learning, service learning, internships, capstone courses, and ePortfolios.

Why High Impact Practices are Important

Research has shown students gain more from their college experience when they engage in high impact practices (Kuh, 2009). Astin (1999) further underscored the importance of involvement to student achievement and other outcomes such as persistence and educational attainment. Research also suggests that students from different backgrounds all benefit from engaging in high impact educational practices (Kuh, 2009). Engagement even appears to have a compensatory effect on grades and persistence for students who are not as well prepared academically (Kuh, 2009).

High impact practices are powerful because they require applied, hands-on, integrative, and often collaborative learning experiences. Examples of high impact practices include first-year seminars, common intellectual experiences or core curriculum, learning communities, writing intensive courses, collaborative assignments and projects, study away/global learning, service learning, internships, capstone courses, and ePortfolios. For my PhD dissertation, I studied the importance of high impact practices on academic success and graduation outcomes in a research setting. As a former career advisor and current academic advisor, I have also witnessed the impacts of these types of experiences in my daily work with students.

Research shows that high impact practice is often inequitable, with first generation, transfer, African American, and Latino students being the least likely to have such experiences (Kuh et al., 2017). For this reason, it is imperative that academic advisors encourage students to participate in these high impact practices. Students who participate in these high impact practices are more likely to experience student success and positive student outcomes such as graduation, employment, and graduate school. Student success can mean academic achievement, engagement in purposeful activities, satisfaction, persistence, and attainment of educational objectives that prepare a student to live an economically self-sufficient, civically responsible, and rewarding life (Kuh et al., 2017).

Implementation of HIPs at VCU

Virginia Commonwealth University has implemented several HIPs into its curriculum and daily practice. One-third of VCU students are first generation students. One-third of VCU students are also on Pell grants. Forty-four percent of VCU students have minority status. These high impact practices are critical to the success of VCU students. As an R1 research institution, VCU has promoted undergraduate research as a way to expose students to systematic inquiry and work to answer new questions. Students can do research for credit in almost every major.

VCU has also developed several learning communities to promote student success. Students can participate in VCU LEAD, a four semester living learning community dedicated to helping students develop individual leadership skills. They have developed VCU Innovate, a living learning community committed to innovation and leadership. Students can earn an undergraduate certificate in product innovation, venture creation, or human-centered design. VCU Globe is a living learning community that is globally focused and prepares students to live in a diverse world. VCU ASPiRE is a living learning community where students work with community partners to address critical community needs.

Participation in study abroad is another example of a high impact practice that promotes student success. VCU has a Generation Study Abroad initiative that aims to double study abroad enrollment by the end of 2020. The College of Humanities and Sciences developed a Baldacci Experiential Learning Scholarship as well as VCU’s Development and Alumni Relations airfare scholarship which have helped address financial barriers to studying abroad. VCU has also converted the initial study abroad appointment to an online session to make it easier for students to access and learn about studying abroad.

VCU has also developed a strong program for the high impact practice service learning­­­. In forensic science for example, students can participate in a service learning class where they teach forensic science to middle school students. It counts for elective credit for the students and is offered in both the fall and spring semesters to allow for the greatest amount of flexibility.

In an effort to further develop high impact practices, VCU created a REAL initiative. REAL stands for relevant, experiential, and applied learning. It guarantees every student an academic experience that involves hands-on learning relevant to their personal and professional goals. It is intentional organizing of career building and civic minded activities that VCU does well. It is working to improve the tracking of experiential learning across the institution. It also brings an equity lens to experiential learning through information sharing and student exposure. In an effort to promote REAL opportunities, these grants provide funding support for VCU faculty and staff as they create or enhance experiential learning opportunities for students.

Implications for Academic Advising

Implementation of HIPs also occurs in academic advising at VCU. Advisors collaborate with the Education Abroad advisors to create study abroad advising pages for different majors. When this was completed in forensic science, it more than tripled the number of study abroad options. Academic advisors also encourage students to participate in research. In forensic science, students are assigned a faculty mentor that can discuss research opportunities. The department also holds experiential learning sessions where students can learn about the process for doing research for credit. A department webpage houses a description of research projects available and the forms needed to do research for credit. Internships are also discussed and managed in a very similar manner.

Another important tool for academic advisors at VCU are major maps (https://majormaps.vcu.edu/). Major maps are strategic career planning maps that allow academic advisors to create individualized plans with each student geared toward their professional goals upon graduation. The maps encourage major exploration, introduce professional networking opportunities, and engage students in real-world experiences. They are based on five pillars: maximizing course and degree planning, getting connected with the community, building cultural competence, getting REAL experience, and preparing for life after college. They are available on a website for easy student access with easy links for students to follow. Find an example at https://majormaps.vcu.edu/Major/forensic-science-forensic-biology.

The major maps ensure that students are taking the right courses in the right sequence to meet graduation goals. They encourage students to explore and make an impact on the VCU community. They help students globalize their skills and help them highlight their ability to work with others from different backgrounds and cultures. They encourage students to get REAL experience through internships, research and other relevant experiences. The major maps also teach students that it is never too early to start thinking about life after college. Major maps are available for each major at VCU and are routinely discussed in advising appointments. Service learning, study abroad, internships, research opportunities and living learning communities are routinely discussed with the help of the major map during advising appointments.


Participation in high-impact educational practices has many positive outcomes for students. HIPs help ensure access, equity, and educational quality. They help us go beyond lectures and transcripts to more purposeful learning. As advisors, we must work to continue to expand HIPs and have developed some frameworks to do so. Student success has become a national priority and the global future depends on postsecondary education offering high levels of learning and personal development for students of all backgrounds.

Madeline Goldman, PhD
Academic Advisor II
College of Humanities and Sciences
Virginia Commonwealth University
[email protected]


Astin, A. W. (1999, March/April).  Astin, A. W. (1999). "Involvement in learning" revisited: Lessons we have learned. Journal of College Student Development, 40(5), 587-98. http://proxy.library.vcu.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.proxy.library.vcu.edu/scholarly-journals/involvement-learning-revisited-lessons-we-have/docview/62307124/se-2?accountid=14780

Kuh, G., O'Donnell, K., & Geary Schneider, C. (2017). HIPs at ten. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 49(5), 8–16, http://doi.org/10.1080/00091383.2017.1366805

Kuh, G. D. (2009). What student affairs professionals need to know about student engagement? Journal of College Student Development, 50(6), 683–706, http://doi.org/10.1353/csd.0.0099

VCU ASPiRE. https://community.vcu.edu/aspire/

VCU Education Abroad Study Abroad Advising Pages. https://vcu.studioabroad.com/_customtags/ct_FileRetrieve.cfm?File_ID=05007477734F0B72037071020F741C727C080F14077C06036E73057301767705067276717701067403

VCU Globe. https://global.vcu.edu/vcuglobe/ 

VCU Innovate. https://davincicenter.vcu.edu/undergraduate/vcuinnovatellp/

VCU LEAD. https://lead.vcu.edu/

Cite this article using APA style as: Goldman, M. (2021, March). High impact educational practices: What they are and how to promote them. Academic Advising Today, 44(1). [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2021 March 44:1


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