Connections Between Instructional Quality, Student Outcomes and Institutional Finances

March 14, 2017

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By Steven Taylor

During a packed Sunday morning session at ACE2017, three panelists discussed the critical connections between effective classroom instruction, improved student outcomes and institutional efficiency. The session was part of a collaboration between ACE and Strada Education Network to produce research, white papers and a quality framework on the topic.

To frame the discussion as moderator, I introduced the session by discussing two white papers commissioned by ACE—Unpacking Relationships: Instruction and Student Outcomes and Instructional Quality, Student Outcomes, and Institutional Finances—the latter released during this panel. A brief thumbnail: Competing priorities, budgetary challenges and outcomes measurement affect institutional leaders’ decision-making about, and calculation of, return on investment for spending on student success programs. Institutions should consider investments in faculty development to be part of their investment in student success.

The author of the white paper on institutional finances, Martin Kurzweil, director of the educational transformation program at Ithaka S+R, commented that empirical research on connections between quality instruction, student outcomes and institutional efficiencies is limited. So he developed a conceptual model to identify mechanisms by which instructional intervention might affect student outcomes, and how these results might impact institutional net revenue.

Kurzweil shared some instructional quality and institutional efficiency constructs defined in the paper, distinguishing between input-focused and outcome-focused methods of instructional quality. Inputs include implementation of pedagogical tools or approaches and participation in instructional training activities, and outcomes include things like survey feedback, standardized test results, grades and retention to a particular instructor.

For institutional efficiency, Kurzweil focused on the institution’s balance sheet, that is an institution’s expenditures on instructional interventions related to increases or decreases in net revenue. The white paper explores further the constructs that allow policymakers and institutional leaders to make decisions that affect an institution’s bottom line.

Florida International University (FIU) provost and executive vice president Kenneth Furton shared key characteristics about FIU that make improving classroom instruction and student outcomes a critical area of investment for the university. Of particular interest was the fact that the state of Florida has moved entirely to a performance-based funding model for public institutions, so it is critical to FIU’s bottom line that they demonstrate improved student outcomes like increased retention, persistence and graduation rates, all of which affect FIU’s overall expenditures and net revenue.

FIU has invested heavily in improving student outcomes in gateway courses which have led to improved success rates in these courses and decreases in course-retakes. Significant structural changes signal that teaching at FIU, which is a high research-intensive university, is a priority; this commitment, along with infusing technological advances and pedagogical reform, has increased faculty satisfaction in teaching gateway courses.

Further information on this topic and ACE’s resources on effective instruction and its connections to improved student outcomes and institutional efficiency are available at

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