School of Education professor Kuh honored with medal for higher education innovation

Friday, January 18, 2013

George Kuh, Chancellor's Professor Emeritus of Higher Education at the Indiana University School of Education, received the 2013 Robert Zemsky Medal for Innovation in Higher Education in a ceremony Thursday night in Philadelphia.

Alumni of the Executive Doctorate in Higher Education Management program at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education award the medal annually to honor individuals whose leadership in higher education has resulted in transformational change in colleges and universities.

Kuh is best known as the founding director of the Center for Postsecondary Research and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) based at IU. Through his scholarship, he has contributed volumes to the research of how college students learn. The NSSE survey began as way to uncover more about university practices than is revealed in typical college rankings by gathering data regarding use of effective educational practices on campus. The survey has grown from 70 institutions in 1999 to more than 1,400 institutions and 2 million students in the U.S. and Canada participating. Adaptations of NSSE are being used in Australia, Asia, South Africa and elsewhere. Kuh now directs the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) with Stan Ikenberry at the University of Illinois, a project designed to discover and disseminate ways that academic programs and institutions can productively use assessment data.

“The Zemsky award was developed by Exec Doc alumni to recognize the value of Dr. Zemsky’s contributions and to celebrate work that exemplifies the Exec Doc program culture of being passionate supporters and change agents in higher education,” said Karen Sibley, Dean of Continuing Education at Brown University and chair of the Alumni Advisory Board of the Penn Executive Doctorate in Higher Education Management. “Dr. George Kuh is absolutely the kind of person who has made a real difference and truly deserves this award.”

”Professor Kuh is a true pioneer in the field of higher education,” said Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the IU School of Education.  “His work has transformed how we think about educationally purposeful practices on colleges and universities and what the institutions can do to design campus environments that promote student learning.  We are very proud to continue that work at Indiana University through NSSE and the Center for Postsecondary Education George founded.  The Zemsky Medal is a fitting tribute to the impact he has had on the field and we join our colleagues at Penn in recognizing and congratulating George on his achievements.”    

In accepting the honor, Kuh said it reflected one thing he had in common with the longtime Indiana University President and Chancellor Herman B Wells, whose biography was titled Being Lucky. “If there’s an explanation for everything I’ve been able to accomplish it’s because I’ve been in the company of really smart people over the course of my entire career,” Kuh said.

Penn honored Kuh with the second Zemsky award ever granted. The first Zemsky Medal went to its namesake, Robert Zemsky, a longtime Penn faculty member considered a pioneer in the use of market analyses for higher education and chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education, a broad coalition of experts who assist institutions of higher learning to strike a balance between market success and public mission.

There is little doubt that NSSE has had great impact on the way colleges and universities assess and respond to student performance. Kuh said that the survey came along at exactly the right time. “We’ve overused the ‘perfect storm’ analogy, but that’s exactly what was happening at the turn of the 21st century when we had accreditors, policy makers, the media, all almost on the same page saying that we need more evidence that what’s going on inside colleges and universities is making a difference,” he said. From the modest start, NSSE has grown to influence how institutions and higher education researchers think about learning outcomes. “Now, it’s very unusual if you would read anything about undergraduate education and not see the phrase ‘student engagement’ and that just wasn’t so in the 1990s,” Kuh said.

Kuh has published more than 300 items, including 30 books, monographs, and national reports, 70 book chapters, and about 200 scholarly articles. In 2011, the National Association for Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) renamed a prestigious annual award in Kuh’s honor. It handed out the first “George D. Kuh Award for Outstanding Contributions to Literature and/or Research” during the 2012 annual conference.