The supportive environment (including the social, psychological, and financial elements that will be addressed by other reports in this series), however, is not enough to keep students hanging around. Studying, prompted by quality teaching, is critical. In research involving tens of thousands of students and accounting for dozens of other possible explanatory factors, including pre-college academic preparation and socioeconomic status, professor of education Alexander Astin and his team found that “the most basic form of academic involvement—studying and doing homework—has stronger and more widespread positive effects [on student outcomes] than almost any other involvement measure or environmental measure.”33 Of the fifty-seven student activities that Astin measured, the ones most associated with increased graduation revolved around the in-class experience: homework, going to class, working on an independent research project, giving class presentations, interacting with faculty, and taking essay exams (but not multiple-choice tests).
See the full report, "The Real Value of What Students Do in College" at the Century Foundation website.
The other activities in Astin’s research that correlated with graduation were ones that connect students more to their peers and to the college: participation in internship programs, in volunteer work, or in intramural sports. Working on campus (part time) was a positive, but working off campus (full or part time) acted as a negative. (Astin’s findings regarding alcohol consumption were interesting. More drinking was associated with higher rates of graduation, perhaps because alcohol plays a role in reducing social inhibitions and helping students to feel a part of a community. But alcohol consumption was also associated with lower grades, pointing to the ongoing campus challenge of tolerating some drinking, but not too much.)