Seeking Better Student Outcomes? Start With Improving Instructional Quality

The below piece is cross-posted on ACE’s Higher Education Today blog.

By Steven Taylor

Today’s postsecondary students are increasingly being taught by part-time faculty. Currently, contingent faculty—part-time and full-time non-tenure-track faculty—are responsible for about 75 percent of college and university instruction, and that number is expected to increase each year for the foreseeable future. The primary job responsibility of part-time faculty is to teach, and while these individuals have developed substantive expertise in their discipline, they may benefit from further training on effective college instruction.

As the focus in higher education becomes more concentrated on outcomes versus inputs, the impact of inputs on outcomes becomes a critical area of research. Over the past few decades, a sizable literature has emerged on the effects of teaching quality on student outcomes, and as institutions seek to improve student outcomes, we are seeing a renewed interest in this field of study.

Institutions, particularly public institutions, increasingly are facing budgetary challenges and are pursuing systematic improvements to increase efficiency. Evidence suggests that an investment in instructional quality improves student retention, persistence and success rates, all of which may positively affect net revenue. ACE hosted a webinar Jan. 24 to look at these areas of intersection, as well as the notion that student academic achievement, as supported by effective teaching practices, is a strong predictor of graduation. Instructional quality as a driver of institutional efficiency is further explored in an commissioned white paper, Instructional Quality, Student Outcomes, and Institutional Finances, released during a concurrent session at the ACE Annual Meeting in March.

ACE and Strada Education Network are collaborating to examine higher education instruction, assess the connections between effective pedagogical approaches and improved student outcomes, and provide critical tools and resources to instructors and institutions. This research aligns with ACE’s work to create and implement student-centered, attainment-focused methods and practices leading to improved student outcomes and more timely postsecondary credential completion.

Unpacking Relationships Between Instruction and Student Outcomes

In 2016, ACE commissioned a white paper, Unpacking Relationships: Instruction and Student Outcomes, authored by Natasha Jankowski, director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes and Assessment. The paper includes an analysis of relationships between clearly articulated performance expectations and pedagogical approaches that enhance outcome attainment.

Through a review of the scholarly literature and evidence-based practice on instruction and student outcomes, Jankowski concludes the more students engage in their learning environment, the more likely they are to complete, learn and be satisfied with their experience. Evidence-based practices have been widely documented as effective, yet the author suggests they are not being widely used in practice.

The white paper explores five areas of intersection between instruction and student outcomes: transparency, pedagogical approaches, assessment, self-regulation and alignment. Jankowski also discusses how the academy might address the challenge of equipping the growing population of contingent faculty with the pedagogical skills and techniques necessary to support students’ academic achievement.

Strategic Commitment to Teaching Excellence at Rutgers University-Newark

The findings presented in Unpacking Relationships: Instruction and Student Outcomes are relevant to students regardless of the type of institution or academic program they chose. Given the research about the barriers first-generation students and those from under-resourced communities and schools face in completing credentials and degrees, it is likely more student-centered, attainment-focused instructional approaches will have a disproportionately large and positive impact on students from underserved communities.

Rutgers University-Newark, one of the four institutions in the Rutgers University system and the most diverse campus in the country, recently completed a strategic planning process under the leadership of Chancellor Nancy Cantor. Rutgers-Newark is increasingly focused on institutional change to build on its legacy as a place of opportunity that emphasizes “curriculum, scholarship, initiatives, places and spaces for both intragroup solidarity and inter-cultural engagement.” Instruction and creative pedagogy are natural places to value and leverage diversity for the greatest impact on student success.

Excellence in instruction, therefore, is an important part of their plan to drive stronger student outcomes and higher graduation rates. Last fall, the university launched the P3 Collaboratory for Pedagogy, Professional Development, and Publicly-Engaged Scholarship, a comprehensive faculty development center that supports the emerging and existing professoriate. Rutgers-Newark is making pedagogical training a cornerstone initiative of the P3 Collaboratory and aims to prepare nearly three-quarters of their instructional faculty in evidence-based instruction through the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) online Course in Effective Teaching Practices.

Faculty who complete the program earn a certificate in Effective College Instruction co-endorsed by ACE and ACUE. ACE is invested in ACUE’s success and has reviewed the Course of Study as part of this collaboration, which advances ACE’s historic mission to expand access to postsecondary education and provide critical tools and resources to instructors and institutions. Bonita Veysey, founding director of the P3 Collaboratory, commented that Rutgers-Newark was committed to enhancing professional development opportunities for faculty and staff, and fully supporting them across their overlapping roles as scholars, teachers, and mentors.

“Research confirms that students’ success and instructional practices are directly correlated,” Veysey said. “Because we believe in investing in faculty and student success, RU-N is providing the ACUE program to participants at no cost,” adding that she expected the university’s already high graduation rates to continue to rise, along with faculty and student satisfaction.

Implications for Future Research

The empirical research on the relationship between the quality of postsecondary classroom instruction as an input into student outcomes is still ripe for further study. An increasing emphasis on outputs as a measure of success means focusing on the central endeavor to the academic enterprise: teaching and learning. Thus, further research and collection of empirical evidence of the relationship between effective classroom instruction and improved student outcomes—retention, persistence and success—should be a strategic imperative for colleges and universities.

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Steven Taylor

Steven Taylor leads national initiatives on alternative education pathways, institutional change and innovation, and instructional quality for ACE; he is co-principal investigator on ACE’s grant to research the impacts and outcomes of quality, scalable faculty development. Additionally, he follows trends around education and industry credential alignment that influence the work of ACE’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation. Taylor is also an adjunct faculty member in the College of Business at Wilmington University (DE).

Taylor has worked for over a decade designing and delivering training programs and working with non-traditional learners in the higher education and trade association sectors. Before ACE, he managed the development of over thirty certification preparation and continuing education courses for pharmaceutical and medical device industry professionals at the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society. His experience at institutions includes roles in student development at the University of North Texas and leading the first Texas Prefreshman Engineering Program (TexPREP) in the Dallas County Community College District.

Taylor earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas A&M University–Commerce and is working towards his doctor of business administration from Wilmington University.

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