Book Reviews

Book by Jennifer Keup and Joni Webb Petschauer
Review by Kyle Ross
Academic and Career Advisor, Center for Advising and Career Development
Washington State University—Pullman

The issue of student success and retention in the first year is pervasive throughout all higher education institutions, and one key intervention to address this issue is the first-year seminar.  Barefoot (2002) and Tobolowsky and Associates (2008) observe that today, over 90% of four-year institutions and a small portion of two-year institutions utilize the first-year seminar (as cited in Keup & Petschauer, 2011, p. 3).  Seeing the importance of these various seminars, The National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition continuously researches the best practices and methods for creating the ideal first-year seminar for an institution.  Keup and Petschauer provide educators a five-volume series of books that details these practices and this extensive process.  The first volume focuses on the designing and administering phase, where educators are not told the perfect way to construct this seminar, but rather the benefits and drawbacks of all of the choices that can be made in the design process.

This volume consists of five chapters, beginning with an introduction to the concept of the first-year seminar.  It includes a literature review of research on the various types of seminars.  The next chapters then discuss the major steps involved in designing and administering the seminar, from launch to assessment and institutionalization.  This caters to a wide audience, as readers can choose to focus on a step in the process depending on where they or their institution are in this process.  For example, a reader new to the seminar would benefit from the first chapter, as understanding the different types of seminars, including study skills, preprofessional, and others, helps to make decisions in choosing the most appropriate type of seminar for an institution.  However, since it is a literature review, this chapter is very data-heavy, which can diminish readers’ interest in the rest of the book.

The remainder of this volume contains significantly less data, focusing on applying what research shows to be best practices and methods for designing the first-year seminar.  Occasionally, the authors do state explicit steps to take.  These steps are still general, though, and provide readers options and freedom with their decisions, so as to not feel like their design would fail if it does not follow the authors’ every word.  An example is in the administration chapter, where the authors discuss funding and budgetary issues.  They note that it is crucial to consider several factors regarding salary and staff funding, but instead of stating a certain amount, they highlight different benefits and compensation, and recommend that all forms of compensation be considered depending on the staff.  This is the strongest aspect of the book, leaving readers with ideas to start turning the wheels in the design phase and with some preliminary decisions made.

If educators can patiently read through the data in the first chapter, the rest of the book is much more focused on applications.  The authors also provide an extensive list of resources readers can consult for specific questions they may have.  This may not be an appropriate read for coordinators very knowledgeable about the first-year seminar, but this book provides excellent guidance for educators who need ideas for their new seminar, or suggestions while changing a current seminar.  Some of this content may seem obvious to readers, but the majority of the authors’ intended audience can learn a lot through this book and likely through the rest of the series.


The First Year Seminar: Designing, Implementing, and Assessing Courses to Support Student Learning and Success Vol 1. Designing and Administering the Course. (2011). Jennifer Keup and Joni Webb Petschauer. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. 102 pp., $25.00, (paperback), ISBN # 978-1-889271-75-0

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