Book Reviews

Book by: Wesley R. Habley, Jennifer L. Bloom, and Steve Robbins
Review by: Tim Fricker
Director, Student Success Initiatives
Mohawk College


Increasing Persistence is a book that all advisors and campus leaders should have in their personal library. The authors, Habley, Bloom and Robbins, effectively deconstruct and reconstruct the definition of student success and summarize for the first time ever, three decades of ACT’s What Works in Student Retention national surveys. Using this data, they persuasively demonstrate the importance of academic advising as one of four foundational student success interventions, including: assessment and course placement, developmental education initiatives, and first-year transition programs. The authors then lay out a road map for changing the culture of student success on campus using Appreciative Inquiry, a popular theoretical foundation for advising practitioners.

The book is well organized and leads the reader through a compelling argument for defining student success in a broader way. The authors argue that “campus-based retention efforts must focus on programs that support learning, motivation, and career development…[and] that it is time to jettison the notion that student success in college is confined to a single institution of first enrollment” (p.18). Defining student success in a new way is hard to do well, but with a comprehensive literature review, decades of data, and a novel set of strategies, the argument is sound and easy to follow. The book is also packed with definitions and literature that make it an excellent reference book.

While the longitudinal data from ACT’s What Works in Student Retention national surveys provides a rich summary of practitioner and leaders’ perceptions of how programs affect student success, it also represents a critical weakness. The authors acknowledge that survey respondent’s “perspectives are shaped by position and function in the hierarchy of the institution as well as the respondent’s personal experiences and opinions. In that vein, it is not clear the degree to which the responses were informed by solid evidence” (p. 213-214). The data does not explain what actually works in student retention.

The authors offer an excellent summary of the best evidence available about retention strategies that provide institutions with a strong return on investment, but also acknowledge that “opinions on the quality and interpretation of such research is far from consistent” (p. 95). The higher education profession is still desperate for more focused research comparing and contrasting various advising interventions on student outcomes. Without a pure experimental design approach, the depth of insight into future practice is not yet there. For example, even within the nearly 850 page volume of How College Affects Students (2005) includes merely half a page on evidence about the effect of advising.

While there are many excellent contemporary student success books catching the attention of faculty, advisors and campus leaders, Habley, Bloom and Robbins make advising theory and practice a focal point. Their data and arguments are both compelling and comprehensive. Moreover, advising professionals will find that each of the other core strategies propagated in this book are also components of every day advising. In this way, advising professionals will find the focus of this book affirming to the important role they play on campus. However, the critical element missing from this book, and student success and advising literature broadly, is the inclusion of research that applies rigorous experimental design methods to ascertain the effects of advising interventions on student outcomes.


References

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students (Vol. 2). K. A. Feldman (Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Increasing Persistence: Research-Based Strategies for College Student Success. (2012). Book by Wesley R. Habley, Jennifer L. Bloom and Steve Robbins. Review by Tim Fricker. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. 512 pp., $50.00 (Hardback). ISBN 978-0-470-88843-8

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