High-Impact Practices and Their Effects: Implications for the Undergraduate Political Science Curriculum

Fletcher McClellan, Elizabethtown College
Kyle Casimir Kopko, Elizabethtown College
Kayla L. Gruber, Elizabethtown College


Part of a broader movement to promote student engagement in educational activities, high-impact practices (HIPs) are purported to deepen learning through such activities as first-year seminars, internships, community-based learning, capstone experiences, study abroad, and research with faculty. Within political science, HIPs are key to efforts to increase civic and political engagement. The discipline is heavily invested in HIPs as vehicles for research, professional development, curriculum, instruction, and student involvement. Addressing disputes among scholars over the efficacy of HIPs, this study examined the effects of upper-year HIPs on student engagement, learning, and satisfaction at a small, private college in the Northeast, measured by responses from seniors to the National Survey of Student Engagement in 2008–2017. Consistent with the literature, the analysis found that community-based learning and research with faculty related positively with: (1) higher-order, reflective, and integrative learning behaviors, (2) personal and general education competencies, and (3) faculty-student interaction. However, community-based learning had the largest impact on arts and sciences majors. Research with faculty, followed by study abroad and capstone experiences, influenced professional studies majors the most. In addition, capstone experiences and study abroad connected positively to satisfaction with the overall educational experience. Depending on their curriculum goals and program mix, political science departments should consider which kinds of HIPs best fit the undergraduate major.