A Holistic Approach to Estimating the Influence of Good Practices on Student Outcomes at Liberal Arts and non-Liberal Arts Institutions

Brian P. An, Eugene T. Parker, Teniell L. Trolian, Dustin D. Weeden
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 1  •  2016  •  pp. 153-175
Many higher education administrators and researchers have considered certain “good practices” of institutions as an instrumental way to improve student outcomes. Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) seven principles of good practice has been particularly salient in defining these practices. Often, prior studies only select some of the seven principles for their analysis. Even studies that consider several principles of good practice on student outcomes typically examine the net effect of each principle instead of assessing how these principles holistically influence student outcomes. Using structural equation modeling, we test a basic conceptual framework where we investigate the contribution of the seven principles on a global measure of good practices (GP), as well as the influence of GP on a multitude of student outcomes. We further test whether liberal arts colleges promote an institutional ethos of good practices as compared to non-liberal arts colleges. Overall, the majority (but not all) of the principles affect GP. Moreover, we find partial evidence that liberal arts colleges foster an institutional ethos of good practices. Although a commitment to foster good practices may create a supportive environment that influences student outcomes, this commitment may lead to unintended consequences for those with little exposure to these good practices.
good practices, learning outcomes, student experiences, liberal arts colleges, liberal arts education, Wabash National Study
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