Working Group 2: Costs and Benefits

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Mission Statement

This working group will explore the financial and social costs and benefits of implementing, scaling and sustaining instructional changes in undergraduate STEM education. In particular, techniques and expertise from economics and related social sciences will be applied to STEM higher education to evaluate and promote change initiatives aimed at improving student success.

Knowledge Claims and Established Ideas

Change initiatives related to pedagogical innovation are typically analyzed in terms of financial costs to the institution and initial time investments by the faculty, while the benefits are framed in terms of improved student outcomes (generally at the course level). What is generally missing from these analyses is the potential financial benefit to the institution of improved student performance, e.g. improved retention, persistence in a major, and graduation rates, among other possible measures. Typical analyses of pedagogical change initiatives also fall short in capturing the ongoing cost of faculty time investment to use improved teaching methods beyond the initial learning curve.

This working group is focused on exploring the costs and benefits of change at multiple levels: individual, department, and institution. When considering the impact of change in higher education, it is important to include both economic and social costs/benefits, including effects on equity and inclusion.

Costs and Benefits of Individual and Department-Level Change. Previous research on change initiatives related to pedagogical innovation has focused primarily on costs and benefits to individuals (e.g., time costs to instructors, incentives and rewards for changing teaching practices) and groups of students (e.g. changes in learning outcomes in a class section or course), although there is increased research activity analyzing efforts to implement and assess pedagogical innovation at the department level.

Costs and Benefits of Institutional Change. There has been relatively less work done on costs and benefits of change at the institution level. The working group views this as a critical area of emphasis, given the lack of previous research and practical guidance for higher education leaders, as well as potential impact on student success.

Key Questions

Key questions driving workgroup activities include the following:

  1. What kinds of institutional data inform and influence change and in what ways? How does this question inform what kinds of data should be collected to promote institutional change?
  2. How do institutions appropriately measure the financial and social costs and benefits of institutional change initiatives aimed at improving student learning outcomes, persistence, and graduation rates? What data on the financial and social costs and benefits of institutional change efforts are needed by chancellors/presidents, provosts, and deans to effectively evaluate potential projects and initiatives aimed at improving student success at an institution?
  3. How do faculty experience their day-to-day work and how does that experience affect their interest in adopting and promoting evidence-based teaching practices? What is the incentive for individual faculty members to improve teaching and learning? How is teaching (and the improvement of teaching) valued by the department and institution? What constraints do faculty feel (in terms of incentives, alternate uses of time, colleagues' approval, etc.) when considering making changes to their teaching practices? How can change leaders make use of this knowledge to promote change at the individual and department level? 

  4. How does the "change process" differ across institutional types - community colleges, public four-year institutions, private four-year institutions, R1 and comprehensive regional institutions - and how does institutional context regarding costs and benefits of change influence "what works" for promoting change at the personal, department, and institutional level?

Action Plan for Moving Forward


The working group met September 28, 2017 and developed the following action plan for moving the work of the group forward:

  1. Defining/Measuring Costs and Benefits of Instructional Change – Institutional Level
    • Goal: Develop practical, concrete guidelines for use by presidents, provosts, and deans that would inform decision-making and action at campus level
    • Preliminary WG2 Action Items:
    • 1) Bringing those with on-the-ground experience (presidents, provosts, deans, business officers) into WG2 monthly discussions

      2) Develop guidelines based on leaders' experiences and research findings

  2. Defining/Delineating Costs and Benefits of Instructional Change – Individual Level
    • Goal: Developing research agenda around the following questions: How does it feel to faculty? What do we know? Where are the gaps? What research remains to be done?
    • Preliminary WG2 Action Items:
    • 1) Working collaboratively with ASCN WG6 (new) on Faculty Rewards

      2) Summarizing current knowledge and outlining future research agenda

Group Leaders

  • Lorne Whitehead, University of British Columbia
  • Scott Simkins, North Carolina A&T State University

Group Members