Higher Student Retention Through Quality Teaching

A new two-year study from ACUE and The University of Southern Mississippi shows how investments in quality teaching lead to higher student retention, strengthen achievement, and narrow equity gaps.

3.7% higher retention among first-year students taught by ACUE faculty at the University of Mississippi." Five years ago, The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) faced big challenges. In gateway courses, first-year students struggled to pass, and large gaps existed by race and Pell status. On top of that, USM academic leaders say, there lacked an instructional culture rooted in evidence-based teaching and student success. 

In response, USM launched the ACUE Faculty Development Institute to equip faculty with evidence-based teaching practices and build a community centered on student success. 

“The consequence of this faculty development initiative was really the beginning of a sea change on campus around teaching and learning,” Dr. Amy Chasteen, USM’s Executive Vice Provost of Academic Affairs said at a press conference to announce new research findings showing that investments in quality teaching lead to higher student retention. Over the last several years, more than 200 faculty have participated in the ACUE Faculty Development Institute. One out of every four full-time faculty is now ACUE Certified. 

‘Quality teaching is leading to increased retention.’

Research by USM and ACUE tells a data-driven story behind that faculty transformation and the impacts seen for students: higher retention and stronger, more equitable outcomes. According to an analysis of outcomes for 3,982 first-year students over two academic years (2017-18 and 2018-19), students taught by ACUE faculty were “significantly more likely to return to USM in the subsequent academic year” compared to students who took no courses taught by ACUE faculty.

The analysis, which included 32 ACUE faculty and 821 non-ACUE faculty, found an estimated additional 80 students returned to USM than would have otherwise.

“What we have found is that quality teaching is leading to increased retention of students and persistence at the institution,” Chasteen said. “We can imagine that with so many ACUE Certified faculty across the campus, there are likely hundreds more students being retained as a result of effective teaching.”

In presenting the research findings to date, Chasteen added that retention is only one benefit of USM’s investment in quality teaching. “We’re seeing stronger achievement, and we’re also seeing sustained improvement over time. DFW rates are lower in subsequent courses for students who took gateway courses with ACUE-credentialed faculty.”

More ACUE Faculty, Stronger Achievement

“We also are seeing an effect of multiple ACUE instructors on student success,” Chasteen said. “The more classes students take with ACUE-certified faculty, the higher the GPA, the greater the course completion, and the higher the pass rates. Again, the impacts are larger for our students of color. So, it’s very important to us, given our equity mission.”

As the most diverse university in the state of Mississippi, USM has made quality teaching a critical strategy for closing equity gaps. USM Provost Dr. Steven Moser said that investing in faculty has led directly to more USM students persisting and graduating, adding that this progress is “the result of a very deliberate, institution-wide investment through our ACUE Faculty Development Institute.” 

A Data-Driven Partnership

The results are the latest findings from a series of longitudinal studies conducted by USM and ACUE researchers. Studies published in summer 2021 will be presented in two sessions at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

“From the start of our partnership, we have worked closely with ACUE to lead high-quality, large-scale research because we wanted to measure the impact of what we were doing,” Chasteen said.

“USM’s institutional commitment to being data-driven has made this collaborative work possible. Their commitment is exemplified in their dedication to measuring the impact of any and all of their initiatives that are designed to improve student outcomes and close those equity gaps,” said Meghan Snow, ACUE’s chief data officer, who was joined by ACUE senior research associate Dr. Theo Pippins, the lead author of the report.

Broader Implications for Student Success

The USM findings prompted a series of responses from higher ed leaders, who praised the student success outcomes and discussed implications for the future of the student success movement. 

Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of Complete College America (CCA), a leader of the higher ed reform movement, commended USM’s leadership “in surfacing important data focused on faculty impact on postsecondary student success.” 

“These retention findings on first-year students are an indication of the student-focused, student-first attitudes of ACUE faculty, combined with sound knowledge of the disciplines and quality teaching methods,” she said. “We are proud of ACUE’s work and share their dedication to creating more equitable student outcomes by eliminating institutional performance gaps through structural reforms of faculty teaching and learning.”  

For Scott Durand, CEO of ACUE, the analysis is another strong validation of ACUE’s mission to ensure student success and equity through quality instruction.

“The evidence is clear: ACUE Certified faculty retain more students, measurably improve achievement, and close equity gaps,” said Durand. “This new finding is a powerful example of how when colleges and universities invest in their faculty and equip them with evidence-based practices, they can tackle the enrollment and completion crises head-on and drive real student success outcomes.”

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education (ACE), praised the USM retention rate findings and said they underscored ACE and ACUE’s shared mission.

“Effective teaching matters. It is gratifying to see ACUE’s work with the University of Southern Mississippi produce such positive results toward strengthening student learning and persistence.”

Watch the press briefing.

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