Tracking Co-Curricular Contributions to Student Success at MSU

Students present at UURAF

By Heather Shea, Assistant Program Director, Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment

For several decades now, evidence collected by higher education scholars (e.g., Astin, 1993; Cress, Astin, Zimmerman-Oster, & Burkhardt, 2001; Kuh, 2008; Wolf-Wendel, Ward, & Kinzie, 2009) indicates that student involvement in purposeful out-of-class or “co-curricular” activities has positive effects on students’ academic success, retention, and persistence to graduation. In addition to these academic success metrics, George Kuh (in 1995 and in 2011) described positive outcomes associated with co-curricular involvement to include increased sense of belonging, capacity for humanitarianism, and interpersonal and intrapersonal competence.

At MSU, we identify co-curricular activities as those requiring student participation outside of the scope of academic (or for-credit) coursework that contribute to achievement of undergraduate learning goals, competencies, and/or specified learning outcomes. Whether a student is conducting undergraduate research with a faculty member, engaging in community volunteerism with a local non-profit, working on-campus as a resident assistant, or serving in an elected leadership role in a student organization—opportunities for co-curricular involvement abound at Michigan State University. These high-impact co-curricular experiences regularly occur across our campus, yet in a large, decentralized enterprise like MSU, a compendium of all experiences or a method of institutionally documenting such activities does not exist.

So, while the evidence shows that co-curricular involvement is an important component of pathways for student success, institutional barriers have contributed to an inability to—at the institutional level—track, document, and learn from these educative co-curricular experiences campus-wide. This changes with the pilot launch of the co-curricular record (CCR) at MSU this spring.

The conception and development of the Co-Curricular Record over the last two years builds on decades-old conversations related to tracking co-curricular student involvement at MSU. Via a human-centered design process, we engaged over 100 faculty, staff, students, and administrative stakeholders to define, envision, strategize, and develop a plan for establishing a CCR. From the beginning, we have worked to address past barriers that derailed previous efforts and build a system that benefits all involved. Key to the successful implementation will be two goals:

  1. Ensure integrity of data based on validated evidence of student learning in co-curricular activities, and,
  2. Build widespread awareness and use of the CCR grounded in an underlying belief in the value of the co-curricular.

After soliciting proposals, vetting submissions, and engaging in the campus purchasing process, MSU officially contracted with a vendor, Orbis Communications, to provide an integrated technology platform designed for managing experiential learning records, workflow, and affiliated events. We aim to pilot this technology this spring and fully implement the CCR in the fall of 2018.

The pilot group consists of approximately 15 different co-curricular learning activities (e.g., the Resident Assistant position in REHS, UURAF events, ASMSU elected positions, and the School of Packaging Internship program, to name a few). These activities are primarily aligned with one of four categories: undergraduate research, leadership experiences, community engaged learning, and internships/coops. We ask pilot partners to submit general information about their programs’ learning outcomes, opportunities for reflection, and overall aims. We then ask them to track student involvement the various facets of their co-curricular activity and document those student experiences in the Record.

As we commence with the pilot, we will frequently revisit our goals of developing a system in which we can trust the integrity of the data provided about student learning in co-curricular activities on campus, and increase awareness and use of the CCR across MSU. One of the ways that we will do this is to communicate regularly with constituents across campus and keep pilot partners and future users apprised of our progress to date and plans for the immediate future. Stay tuned on the Hub’s blog and other outlets for future reports about the CCR.


Astin, Alexander. What Matters in College? Four Critical Years Revisited. Jossey-Bass. 1993.

Cress, Astin, Zimmerman-Oster, & Burkhardt. (2001). “Developmental Outcomes of College Students’ Involvement in Leadership Activities.” Journal of College Student Development, 42(1), 15–27. 2001.

Kuh, George. “The Other Curriculum: Out-of-Class Experiences Associated with Student Learning and Personal Development.” The Journal of Higher Education, 66(2), 123–155. 1995.

Kuh, George. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. 2003.

Kuh, Geoge. “What Educators and Administrators Need to Know About College Student Engagement.” In Harper & Jackson (Eds.), Introduction to American Higher Education (pp. 189–212). New York City, NY: Routledge. 2011.

Wolf-Wendel, Ward, & Kinzie. “A Tangled Web of Terms: The Overlap and Unique Contribution of Involvement, Engagement, and Integration to Understanding College Student Success.” Journal of College Student Development, 50(4), 407–428. 2009.

Photo credit: Dave Trumpie