Book by Tracy L. Skipper
Review by Patrick J. Donnelly
The Center for Access and Transition
University of Cincinnati
Student Development in the First College Year: A Primer for College Educators is a book I wish I had when I started advising students in 1989. As a graduate student in English Literature, neither my experiences nor my coursework exposed me to student development theory and practice. While I had excellent mentors, I remember only cursory references to student development during my training. In fact, I remember being informed that the best way to learn about this topic was to attend the NACADA regional and national conferences. Many breakout sessions later I felt better informed, but the information was disparate and disconnected, and leaving too many gaps from idea to idea.
Imagine how excited I was to find Skipper’s book many years later. I have found it to be just what I was looking for. It is an excellent resource that clearly and concisely examines the individual components of student development theory that form its foundation. Skipper makes an excellent argument for focusing on the first year of college, but her explanation of the theoretical framework is general enough to be useful for anyone who works with students. Additionally, she does not limit herself to first year programs in her examples or in her discussion of applying theory. So why does she even mention the first year of college in the title? To her credit, Skipper consistently connects her explanations back to the development of first year students with the over-arching message being that it is incumbent on all educators to work with students in manner that fosters their overall development and this obligation starts as soon as students hit campus.
There are a number of reasons why I like this book and why I think others will also. Throughout the book there are a total of nine boxes and eight figures used to supplement the text. The boxes are bulleted lists within a textbox that serve to summarize the main points of various types of identity development, intellectual and ethical development, and other pieces of student development theory. The figures are graphical representations of concepts explained in the book, including the ideas of specific theorists, such as Astin and Tinto. Both the boxes and figures seem particularly useful as quick reference and review points for professionals getting their first exposure to student development theory. Finally, the reference list compiled by the author represents a thorough review of student development theory and is more than expected for a book of this length (p.109). My only criticism of the book is that the reference list might be too hefty for a work of this length. Researchers have an obligation to include everything they use on their reference list and also to use everything they include on the list. I am certain Skipper has met this obligation; however, I wonder if everything on the list is given a fair representation in the book.
As an advisor to students in a first year program, this book is an invaluable resource; I will keep it on my desktop for continued reference. While professionals with degrees in College Student Personnel may not need this primer, it will be an asset to all others who works with students.
Student Development in the First College Year: A Primer for College Educators. (2005). Book by Tracy L. Skipper. Review by Patrick J. Donnelly. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First Year Experience & Students In Transition, 115 pp. ISBN: # 13 978-1-889271-52-1