Research Topic

Integrative Learning in US Undergraduate Public Health Education: Effective High-Impact Practices

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Undergraduate public health degree programs have flourished over the last decade in the United States; from 1995 to 2016 the number of related undergraduate degrees awarded annually increased almost ten-fold, from around 1,300 to nearly 13,000. The Council on Education for Public Health established initial ...

Undergraduate public health degree programs have flourished over the last decade in the United States; from 1995 to 2016 the number of related undergraduate degrees awarded annually increased almost ten-fold, from around 1,300 to nearly 13,000. The Council on Education for Public Health established initial accreditation criteria for standalone baccalaureate programs in 2013 in tandem with these increases and in 2015, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health launched the Undergraduate Public Health and Global Health Education Network to advance undergraduate public health education. In parallel, the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) launched the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative in 2005 to champion the importance of a liberal education “for individual students and for a nation dependent on economic creativity and democratic vitality.” Through the Educated Citizen and Public Health initiative, AAC&U has advocated for undergraduate public health education as a model of a practical liberal education.

In association with AAC&U, George D. Kuh – who founded Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research and the National Survey of Student Engagement – outlined a set of ten high-impact educational practices (HIPs) in 2008 that address the often-fragmented undergraduate learning experience and that result in increased rates of student retention and student engagement. In 2017 Dr. Kuh recommended expanding the original list of HIPs to eleven, including: capstone courses and projects, collaborative assignments and projects, common intellectual experiences, diversity/global learning, ePortfolios, first-year experiences, internships, learning communities, service learning/community-based learning, undergraduate research, and writing-intensive courses. Authentic and intentional assignments are fundamental to HIPs and encourage “integrative learning,” both a simple and complex approach to pedagogy. High-impact practices invariably target written and oral communication, teamwork, ethical decision-making, critical thinking, and the application of knowledge – skills uniformly valued in recent employer surveys.

In 2015, a Frontiers in Public Health Research Topic (Undergraduate Education for Public Health in the United States) addressed the evolution of undergraduate public health education in the United States. The aim of this Research Topic is, in part, to follow that effort and derive a confluence of initiatives and priorities evident today in higher education. The purpose of this Research Topic is to examine the role of effective high-impact practices within the curriculum of undergraduate public health programs - through original research, reports, and reviews - that contribute to a prepared public health workforce, align with the LEAP initiative, promote integrative learning experiences, and enable the development of transferable skills desired by employers. We intend for this curated collection to address all aspects of the design, implementation, and assessment of authentic and intentional pedagogical practices at both 2- and 4-year institutions – at course, program, and institutional levels - beneficial for college students from many backgrounds who enroll in one of the nation’s fastest-growing majors.


Keywords: high-impact practices, integrative learning, student engagement, undergraduate public health education, workforce development


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