In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Student Engagement in Tertiary Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Books
  • Journals
  • History
  • Assessment
  • Academic Outcomes
  • Emotional and Behavioral Outcomes
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Minority Group Engagement
  • International Student Engagement
  • Engagement in Vocational Education
  • Best Practices

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Education Student Engagement in Tertiary Education
Hamish Coates, Mollie Dollinger
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0173


The student experience and engagement field is a rare mix of scholars and research on both the psychological theories that enhance student engagement and the everyday institutional and school policies that promote student engagement. It is an undeniably popular field, with practitioners, experts, university and school leaders, policymakers, and students all hoping to understand what they can do to foster engagement practices. This article provides a wide breadth of the historical and current research that has shaped student engagement today. First, it includes general overviews, books, and journals that contribute basic dimensions and theories for understanding the evolution of student engagement. Next is an examination of student engagement assessment practices and multiple perspectives on the ongoing discourse of how researchers and scholars should evaluate student engagement. Following are five key areas for improving student engagement: institutional efforts, the role of teachers, student self-efficacy and self-motivation, pedagogy developments, and finally, the impact of technology on the field of student engagement. Also discussed are the outcomes of student engagement, with sections devoted to academic outcomes, emotional and behavioral outcomes, and the relationship between student engagement and extracurricular activities. Student engagement through the perspectives of those outside the majority—minority students and international students—is then examined. The final section covers the best practices discovered so far within student engagement. An active attempt was made to include scholars from the international community. Although this article focuses on higher education, research on primary and secondary education is also referenced. A rich theoretical literature exists; however, student engagement is invariably an applied phenomenon, and many key studies are policy oriented.

General Overviews

The following works provide an introduction to the field of student engagement. Leading student engagement authors, such as Coates 2005 and Kuh 2003, have studied student engagement in higher education thoroughly. Fredricks, et al. 2004 provides a history of the formation of student engagement as a construct, whereas Axelson and Flick 2011 discusses the key stakeholders involved in student engagement and the relationships among institutions, students, teachers, and context. The edited collection by Dunne and Owen 2013 captures insights into the student engagement phenomenon emphasizing work underway in the United Kingdom. McCormick, et al. 2013; Thomas 2012; and Pascarella and Terenzini 2005 also provide a comprehensive evaluation of student engagement empirical research as of the early 21st century.

  • Axelson, R. D., and A. Flick. 2011. Defining student engagement. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 43.1: 38–43.

    A succinct history of engagement and assessment measures to study the phenomenon, as well discussion of the key stakeholders and responsibilities.

  • Coates, H. 2005. The value of student engagement for higher education quality assurance. Quality in Higher Education 11.1: 25–36.

    Discusses the relationship between student engagement and quality assurance and what activities are the most likely to lead to productive learning.

  • Dunne, E., and D. Owen. 2013. The student engagement handbook: Practice in higher education. Bingley, UK: Emerald.

    Examines student engagement from several perspectives, including governance, conceptual, pedagogical, community, student affairs, and research.

  • Fredricks, J. A., P. C. Blumenfeld, and A. H. Paris. 2004. School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research 74.1: 59–109.

    A look at the behavioral, emotional, and cognitive aspects of engagement as well as measures and outcomes related to engagement.

  • Kuh, G. D. 2003. What we’re learning about student engagement from NSSE: Benchmarks for effective educational practices. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 35.2: 24–32.

    A description and analysis of the National Survey of Student Engagement, the leading survey for student engagement within higher education.

  • McCormick, A. C., J. Kinzie, and R. M. Gonyea. 2013. Student engagement: Bridging research and practice to improve the quality of undergraduate education. In Higher education: Handbook of theory and research. Vol. 28. Edited by M. B. Paulsen, 47–92. New York: Springer.

    Traces the history of student engagement and empirical applications and provides contemporary illustrations of assessment and evidence-based improvement.

  • McMahon, B., and J. P. Portelli. 2004. Engagement for what? Beyond popular discourses of student engagement. Leadership and Policy in Schools 3.1: 59–76.

    Overview of philosophical approaches and definitions of student engagement followed by key aspects of student engagement including criteria, standards, and norms.

  • Pascarella, E. T., and P. T. Terenzini. 2005. How college affects students. Vol. 2, A third decade of research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    This volume reviews all major findings on the way in which college influences students’ learning, as well as discusses implications for research, practice, and public policy.

  • Thomas, L. 2012. Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change. What works: Student retention and success programme final report. London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

    Overview of student engagement and student retention strategies. Includes case studies and practical implications and recommendations for the future.

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