Book By: Dalton, Jon C., Russell, Terrence R, and Kline, Sally, Eds.
Review By: Richard A. Fordyce
Saint Louis Christian College,
This book may make a limited, yet significant contribution to academic advisors. On campuses where character development is seen as a key function of the institution, academic advisors may be in the best position to challenge students to work on character development and to assist in the measurement of their progress toward that goal.
Contributors to this volume in the Jossey-Bass "New Directions for Institutional Research" series do not indicate they are familiar with the content written by other contributors. As a result, there is redundancy in several of the chapters. However three themes consistently came through:
1) although character development had been a key goal of higher education when the colonial colleges were founded, it has only recently regained importance;
2) character is difficult to define;
3) character development is even more difficult to assess.
Each author who addressed these themes developed their perspective a little differently from the others thereby providing a broader view of the subject. Even so, it is difficult to grasp a single conclusion to either a definition of character or how to assess it. Terrence Russell illustrates this difficulty when he states "a good part of the problem . . . arises from the lack of agreement on - indeed, sometimes flat contradiction about - what is counted as character" (p. 105). He continues "we have made methodological choices that lead us to deal less with behavior and more with attitudes, values, and beliefs - more, that is, of what students say than what they do . . . " (p. 105).
Authors conclude that colleges can make a contribution to character development, but they are not sure to what extent. George Kuh and Paul Umbach summarize what the others also indicate, "Among the activities likely to contribute to character development are doing community service or working on a project in the community that is related to a course, volunteerism, the frequency with which students are exposed to diversity in the classroom, talking with students from other races and ethnicities, or having conversations with students who have different political and social views" (p. 44). However, merely making these opportunities available does not guarantee character development. As Kuh and Umbach further write, "a campus can create a set of activities that theoretically should contribute to character development, but unless students actually experience or take part in those activities one cannot anticipate the desired effect" (p. 51).
Two of the chapters relate specifically to religious-based institutions. Not surprisingly, students at religious-based institutions show more development of character than students at secular institutions. However Joseph Filkins and Joseph Ferrari maintain that character development at DePaul University may fit any institution, "In short, simply having students engage in mission-related activities may not be enough. Students need to perceive the value of such activities, which is in part influenced by (and is perhaps influencing) their motivation to work toward mission-related goals" (p. 89). As they also note, "students get out of the experience what they put in" (p. 86).
What may be difficult, if not impossible, to do across campus - assist the student in developing and assessing character -- may be accomplished by advisors one student at a time. This book will provide assistance in accomplishing that goal.
Assessing Character Outcomes in College
. (2004). Book by Dalton, Jon C., Russell, Terrence R, and Kline, Sally, Eds. Review by Richard A. Fordyce. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 128 pp. Price $29.00. ISBN 0-7879-7791-8