Peer leadership as an emerging high-impact practice: An exploratory study of the American experience
Given the powerful and ubiquitous qualities of peer influence, higher educators have begun to harness this resource in student support and service delivery by using undergraduates as leaders, mentors and educators for their fellow students. This paper analyses data from 1 942 students from 142 institutions in the United States who responded to a national survey of peer leaders administered by the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition in 2009. Descriptive and inferential analyses indicate that survey respondents often hold more than one peer leader position, academic positions were the most common peer leadership experiences, and they receive extensive training for their peer leader roles in the form of initial training, ongoing support and supervision by professional staff. Further, the overwhelming majority of survey respondents felt that their peer leadership experience was highly beneficial to their skill development, nature of interactions and campus integration. Students engaged in community service peer-leader roles reported positive change on more outcomes than peer-leader roles in academics, residence halls and orientation and peer leaders who received financial compensation reported positive differences on a wider range of self-rated outcomes than those students not receiving remuneration. In sum, the examination of peer-leader structures and outcomes provide suggestive evidence that peer leadership meets many of the criteria to be considered as a high-impact practice.
Keywords: Higher education, peer leadership, high-impact practice, first-year student experience, United States.