Book by Alice W. Brown & Sandra L. Ballard (Eds.)
Review By: Whitney M. Marks
City Colleges of Chicago Malcolm X College,
In Brown and Ballard’s (2011) Changing Courses: Reinventing Colleges, Avoiding Closure, essays are anthologized to answer one overarching question: what can we learn from small liberal arts colleges that closed and those that managed to survive? It is important to note that those colleges that had the opportunity to survive—sometimes seemingly by pure luck—had to become something new, something more in some ways and something less in other ways. They could not stay as they were and continue to exist at the particular time and place of the institution’s crisis. That is the main idea generated out of Brown and Ballard’s (2011) collection, but what does this idea, culminating from many voices, mean to academic advisors?
The case studies collected were composed by various sources—some by the institution’s president at the time of ending or near-ending, some by the editors, and others by interested parties. Even though different perspectives are represented, the perspectives are mostly those of high level college administrators. And, indeed, the text appears most useful to other administrators high enough in an organization’s structure to chart the future course of the college. Although academic advisors may read a college’s strategic plan, most are not at the course-charting table. However, the story of Wilson College does illustrate how other constituencies like academic advisors—especially if the power of many is wielded together—can help sustain a college through a time of turmoil (Brown & Ballard, 2011, pp. 30-33).
The stories of survival like Wilson College show that academic advisors could be, if privy and alert, key players in the sustainability of a college. The anthology also reveals that academic advisors can be sources that inspire students to follow their passions, and that passion may very well be to save their particular college. Academic advisors may also have ideas for programs that can help the college retain students and bring in revenue. Advisors are in direct contact with students and often gain solid insight into the needs and desires of students. Therefore, the knowledge that academic advisors gain can be invaluable to a college attempting to evaluate themselves and what they can do to attract students. In sum, Brown and Ballard’s (2011) work gives academic advisors ways in which they can be of service to their campus and what warning signs they can behold at a struggling campus. Whether an advisor has a resounding voice would depend on the particular culture of their campus.
Although an academic advisor can dig deep in this text and find useful professional tools, this text undoubtedly better serves the uses and addresses the concerns of high level administrators. The authors, by their use of certain documents, choice of writers, and entitling the last chapter ‘Advice to Presidents of Struggling Colleges’, would agree that academic advisors were not a concern when compiling this work. The case study approach was appropriate, allowing readers to consider the complexities of colleges falling into the small liberal arts category. The history of the represented colleges may also be of interest to those historians amongst us. However, better, and many, resources exist that will serve the needs and interests of advisors.
Changing Courses: Reinventing Colleges, Avoiding Closure (2011). Alice W. Brown and Sandra L. Ballard (editors). Review by Whitney Marks. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 124 pp. $29.00. ISBN: 978-1-1182-7433-0