Book Reviews

Book by George D. Kuh, Jillian Kinzie, John H. Schuh, and associates
Review by Maura M. Reynolds
Director of Academic Advising
Hope College (Holland, Michigan)


Are you like me when you find a new book about college; do you check the index first for citations on “advising”? Student Success in College: Creating conditions that matter will not disappoint: its index lists 24 citations on advising among its 370 pages.

Here, authors examine 20 diverse, four-year institutions which had higher-than-predicted levels of student engagement (as evidenced by the National Survey of Student Engagement [NSSE] administered between 2000 and 2002) and higher-than-predicted graduation rates.  Authors refer to these 20 as DEEP (Documenting Effective Educational Practice) schools. Two-year institutions were not part of the study since NSSE was designed for four-year colleges and universities; the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE, established in 2003) is the two-year college equivalent of the NSSE. The authors emphasize that the 20 institutions they studied are not the “best” or “most effective,” but rather that each has approaches from which others can learn.

So, what can we learn?  Some fairly obvious things: challenge and support, collaborate, make student success an institutional priority, stay the course, convert obstacles into opportunities, articulate and live the institutional mission, pay attention to first-year students, understand who students are and how they learn, use physical space to promote learning, affirm diversity.  Not much surprising there, though it never hurts to be reminded—and to see how diverse institutions address ever-so-common challenges.

And what of those 24 citations for advising?  Five are duplicates, and several others indicate only that the word “advisor” or “advising” appears on the page. That said, however, the authors recognize the importance of advising for student success: “…academic advising was a high priority at DEEP institutions” (p. 314) and “At these institutions, advising is viewed as a way to connect students to the campus and help them feel that someone is looking out for them” (p. 214). The authors cite one school, concerned about a lower-than-hoped-for retention rate of first-year students, that focused on academic advising and formalized advising as part of a revamped freshman year seminar (pp. 278-9). The authors are likewise aware of the variety of advising models used at DEEP schools and insist that people and institutional culture, not structure, mediate student success (pp. 277-278).

Faculty at several DEEP institutions reported that advising was “intrinsically rewarding” (p. 214) or that they chose to work and to stay at their college because of the attitude toward advising (p. 213). However, tantalizing statements like, “…academic advising is encouraged, supported, and rewarded at DEEP colleges and universities” (p. 214) are not supported with specific information about just what is involved in that encouragement, support, and reward.

The authors recognize that student success is complicated and caution that no single blueprint or simple tweaking will result in enhanced student success.  Improvement demands both reflection and resolve: this book encourages both.

While advisors could surely learn from dipping into this book, they may find two, four-page, on-line policy briefs based on the study both more accessible and more focused. In “Promoting student success: What advisors can do” (Occasional Paper #11), D. Jason DeSousa offers suggestions (with examples drawn from the book) and a collection of questions to ponder.  “Promoting student success: What small steps campuses can take” (Occasional Paper #9)  authored by Elaine El Khawas follows a similar pattern and is a good reminder that small changes, often made by “small fry” (though this brief’s original title was “Small steps senior administrators can take”), can result in significant improvement in student success.  Both DeSousa and El Khawas were members of the Project DEEP research team.

Whether advisors find this book or the policy briefs or some other resource helpful as we work to enhance student success, the book’s final sentence is a fitting mantra: “Let’s get to work” (p. 317).

References:

De Sousa, D.J. (2005). Promoting student success: What advisors can do (Occasional Paper No. 11). Bloomington, Indiana:  Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.

El Khawas, E, (2005). Promoting student success: Small steps campuses can take (Occasional Paper No. 9). Bloomington, Indiana:  Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.

Both policy briefs can be accessed at http://webdb.iu.edu/Nsse?view=deep/briefs


Student Success in College: Creating conditions that matter. (2005). Book by George D. Kuh, Jillian Kinzie, John H. Schuh, and associates. Review by Maura M. Reynolds. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 400 pp., Price: $38.00 ISBN # 0-7879-7914-7
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