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Students Engaged in Extracurricular Programs Perform Better Academically, LEAP Study Reports

College students increase their likelihood to excel by participating in certain programs at their schools, according to a new report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Students who engage in learning communities, internships, service learning programs and undergraduate research projects perform at higher levels than their peers who do not, concludes the report from AAC&U’s initiative Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP).

Though these high-impact educational practices increase any student’s academic performance, they are most beneficial to traditionally underserved students — minority and first-generation students. Yet this population is least likely to participate in the programs, according to the study’s author George D. Kuh who analyzed data from a survey of six million students from over 1,300 universities and colleges.

“This new LEAP report speaks directly to one of the most important national challenges facing American higher education,” says AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider. “Our nation’s future depends on helping today’s extraordinarily diverse generation of college students reap the full benefits of their studies in college. What Kuh’s research plainly reveals is that we know what works, but we just aren’t providing it to all the students who could benefit.”

The report also found:

  • A majority of White students (57 percent) do internships which employers view as highly desirable, as compared to only 46 percent of Black and Hispanic students who do the same.
  • 36 percent of students whose parents went to college report completing a senior capstone project, while only 29 percent of first generation students do so.
  • Only 17 percent of all students participate in learning communities — a practice proven to increase retention rates.
  • Overall only one-fifth of students report working with a faculty member on a research project, and those who do so report a greater capacity for integrative learning.

“These findings strongly suggest that colleges and universities can enrich learning and help more students succeed by making it possible for every student to have one high-impact experience in the first year and another one later in their academic program,” says Kuh.

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