New Study Analyzes the Impact of Effective Teaching in Higher Education

Although there is a substantial body of research on the importance of teacher quality in elementary and secondary schools, relatively little is known about the impact of teaching quality on student performance in higher education, partly because common postsecondary curricula and standardized assessments are rare. 

With this in mind, a group of researchers studied a sample of 339,844 mathematics students and more than 2,000 algebra instructors at the University of Phoenix from 2001 to 2014. Because of the size of the university (University of Phoenix is the largest university in the United States) and their unique instructional model based on common, standardized curricula and assessments, the researchers were able to explore an unusually large data set. 

The report “Measuring Up: Assessing Instructor Effectiveness in Higher Education,” which appears in Education Next reveals the impact of instructor effectiveness on student achievement in the higher education sector. The study found that compared to having an average instructor, having an skilled instructor benefits students in a number of ways, impacting their grades, test scores and credits. 

Yet, the study warns, colleges largely ignore these important factors and instead rely on subjective measures like students’ end-of-course evaluations, which fail to truly differentiate between effective and ineffective teachers.

Moreover, the researchers imply that “policies that attract, develop, allocate, motivate, and retain effective faculty are a potentially important tool for improving student success and institutional productivity.”