Yesterday I was fortunate to listen to George Kuh, Indiana University, Bloomington professor and author of Student Success in College: Creating Conditions that Matter . His academic resume  is extensive and impressive. (He directed the National Survey of Student Engagement, etc…) He is one of the leading experts on why students stay in school, what strategies engage them while they are in college and how we assess data for improving student learning and retention. Kuh is also creating some much-needed data surrounding alumni of arts-intensive schools and how they have succeeded in the job market.
Kuh began his talk with compelling Department of Labor data:
- Every year more than 1/3 of the U.S. labor force changes jobs.
- Today’s students will have 10-14 different jobs by age 38.
- More than 30 million Americans are working in jobs that didn’t exist last year.
The mental and psychological aptitudes needed to succeed in this environment are not found in the old-fashioned, lecture-based classroom, but through engaging in “deep learning” practices — volunteering in a soup kitchen, tutoring an ESL student, living with students who are all committed to improving the environment.
For those of us who have been involved in academic administration for the last decade, some of these insights are familiar--service learning, civic engagement activities and learning communities improve retention and student satisfaction. Many educators are aware of this data and are developing more interdisciplinary programs that prepare students for a flexible employment experience. But some of the data that Kuh presented yesterday was new to me. For instance, students who stay in close contact with their parents are statistically more engaged and successful in school. The much-maligned “helicopter” parent may not be all that bad for academic success.
Another interesting piece of Kuh’s data points to the kind of student who benefits the most from “deep learning” experiences. For instance, students from more diverse backgrounds with lower ACT scores entering college demonstrate statistically greater academic improvement and satisfaction over time when they participate in these deep learning practices than do students who enter college with higher scores and grades. Involving undergraduate students more directly with faculty research is another top strategy for guaranteeing a successful academic experience. The sooner a student participates in a “high impact,” engaged activity, such as volunteering with a soup kitchen manager or testing water quality in an urban wetlands environment, the more likely they are to remain in school.
Kuh’s data should reinforce for provosts and chancellors the challenging goal to allow more students to participate directly in the research process (without raising tuition dollars). Research teaches creativity, trial and error and how to deal with failure — qualities that will help our children negotiate this tough economy as well as other challenging life experiences.