Book Reviews

Book By: Barefoot, Betsy O.; Gardner, John N. (Editor); Cutright, Marc; Morris, Libby V.; Schroeder, Charles C.; Schwartz, Stephen W.; Siegel, Michael J.; Swing, Randy L
Review By: Patrick J. Donnelly
Academic Advisor
The Center for Access and Transition
University of Cincinnati

Achieving and Sustaining Institutional Excellence for the First Year of College is the final report of a 2002 project from the Policy Center on the First Year of College. If the thought of reading almost 500 pages of research is abhorrent, I want to assure you that this qualitative study is an engaging and enjoyable read. More importantly, it is a fabulous resource that will benefit anyone who works in a first year experience program.

The project, called “Institutions of Excellence in the First Year of College,” focused on thirteen institutions identified as providing exemplary first year experiences for their students. The rich case studies garnered from these institutions comprise the largest part of the report. It is in these case studies – and the conclusions and recommendations the authors draw from them – in which the book shines.

While most readers will benefit from reading the case studies first, there are some organizational and procedural features about the studies that will be helpful. First, the studies are grouped by institutional type, with a initial section dedicated to two-year institutions. The next delineation is by size, with the sections focused on four-year institutions in groups of less than 2,000 students, 2,000 to 5,000 students, and increasing by increments of 5,000 to the final group of institutions with more than 20,000 students. Authors were consistent in their methods of inquiry from each institution and write-ups follow a standard format. This format, however, does not restrict the richness of the writing or the thoroughness of detail in the cases.

A major strength of the book emerged before I finished the first case and continued to reinforce itself throughout each subsequent case. Specifically, I found that the strategies for success are easily distilled from the context in which they are described. This is important because of the thirteen institutions selected, a reader might closely identify with only one; however, the cases are presented in such a way that the good ideas transcend institutional type and size. In short, it is easy to take something away from each case. A good example is the Siegel and Gardner chapter about West Point in which I took extensive notes and marked numerous passages about the leadership development and mentoring programs. I completely recognize that these programs will never be duplicated on my campus – nor do I want them to be – but I do want to use some of their ideas to bolster the foundations and stimulate growth of my campus programs.

Ultimately, this is a great resource for anyone concerned about their institution’s commitment to the first year of college. This text, while clearly a celebration of success, is a tool first year programs –whether new, developing, or established – can use to achieve and sustain the same levels of success.


Achieving and Sustaining Institutional Excellence for the First Year of College. (2000). Book by Barefoot, Betsy O.; Gardner, John N. (Editor); Cutright, Marc; Morris, Libby V.; Schroeder, Charles C.; Schwartz, Stephen W.; Siegel, Michael J.; Swing, Randy L. Review by Patrick Donnelly. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 480 pp. Price: US $45. ISBN: 0-7879-7151-0.


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