Book By: John R. Thelin
Review By: Paul Tontz
Educational Administration & Leadership Ph.D. Program
University of Denver
Yale was the pioneer in
conferring some of the first M.D. degrees. Deceptively, the
M.D. in this case referred to the buying power of many powerful
leaders at the time, 'multum donivat'. "He gave much." This
fact is just one of the many fascinating details Thelin reveals
in his comprehensive account of the history of American higher
education. Thelin takes great care in delineating chapters by
connecting each with theme and dates. Appealing to academic
advisors are emergent themes that demonstrate the historical
evolution of advising.
By 1880-1900, 90% of students
opted to end studies after two years (p. 77). This might seem
to suggest a clear lack of attention to the issue of retention,
when in fact the economic environment between 1860 and 1890
showed that a two-year certificate, not a bachelor's degree,
was sufficient for professional pursuits (p. 99). By the 1920s-1940s,
professors were assigned to advise marginal students. Retention
rates were low and students were indifferent to faculty advisor
meetings; clearly a challenge for an advisor seeking to help
students focus on graduation.
By the mid 1970s the origin
of formalized advising became evident with the evolution of
professional staff positions specifically designed to advise
students. Not only did this lighten faculty advising loads,
thus allowing more time to conduct research, it responded to
changing student needs as a greater percentage of non-traditional,
part-time, and returning students filled our campuses. Historically,
groundwork for a 'multiple pallet' advisor was laid by the Morrill
Land Grant Act of 1862 that gave institutions flexibility to
offer students a variety of courses and by the 'University Building
stage' of 1880-1910 that saw higher education progress towards
specialization with juniors and seniors opting for "major" fields.
Thelin's theme exploring
access issues and the tracking of women within education is
of interest to advisors as well. Historically high schools have
tracked women away from enrolling in the advanced math and science
courses that would allow them to emerge in the sciences and
engineering fields. Instead, women were tracked into particular
courses that would lead to majors such as education (p. 98).
Today a high school or first-year student advisor cognizant
of these facts should carefully guide an aspiring female scientist
to choose appropriate course work.
Finally, it is of interest
to note the evolution of universities hosting a scholarly journal
on campus in the era of "Great American Universities". This
would account for the present day hosting of NACADA at Kansas
State University and The National Resource Center for The First-Year
Experience at the University of South Carolina.
This book was extremely
well written and meticulously documented. Examples and details
for each time period clearly elucidate the trends of the time.
Ironically, what gave this book strength also provided a certain
impedance as it clearly was difficult to fit all the dates and
pieces of the puzzle into one coherent framework.
I highly recommend this book to others in higher education and
particularly to advisors. So often we function without an understanding
of purposes underlying our field. Here Thelin provides a historical
foundation that not only illuminates how the field of advising
emerged within higher education but explores the trends that
shape how we deal with students today.
A History of American Higher Education. (2004). Book by John R. Thelin. Review by Paul Tontz. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. 432 pp. (paperback), ISBN # 0801880041.