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Foundations of Student Affairs Practice: How Philosophy, Theory, and Research Strengthen Educational Outcomes

reviewed by William Altman - 2003

coverTitle: Foundations of Student Affairs Practice: How Philosophy, Theory, and Research Strengthen Educational Outcomes
Author(s): Florence A. Hamrick, Nancy J. Evans, and John H. Schuh.
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787946478, Pages: 384, Year: 2002
Search for book at Amazon.com

The purpose of college in the United States has changed greatly over the years. Once a place dedicated to preparing young men to become community leaders by providing them with a liberal education in the arts, literature, and the sciences, institutions of higher learning now educate men and women of all ages in a myriad of liberal arts, technical, and commercial skills. However, we seem to be returning, at least in part, to the Renaissance ideal that college should contribute to the student’s total personal development. As a result, student affairs, which once concerned itself primarily with counseling and guidance has come to be a full partner in overall student development.

In Foundations of Student Affairs Practice: How Philosophy, Theory, and Research Strengthen Educational Outcomes, Florence A. Hamrick, Nancy J. Evans, and John H. Schuh of Iowa State University provide a history of this evolution of student affairs, a context in which it may be understood, and a loose blueprint for how we may put current research on student development to use in our own institutions. The book integrates student development theory, philosophy, and practice with special attention to measurable outcomes. In only 384 pages, it is a relatively compact, yet comprehensive look at student development from historical, psychological, social, and pedagogical points of view. Many different professionals will find this book extremely useful. However, because of its comprehensive nature, and a great deal of redundancy (about which more later), different readers will want to approach it in different ways.

The book is divided into three parts. Part One furnishes a background for the rest of the book, beginning in Chapter One with a look at the various kinds of missions which drive different colleges and universities. The authors examine not only the mission statements of the institutions, but also the historical events and progression of philosophies that shaped them. In Part Two, they provide information about how student affairs practice can influence specific student outcomes. Finally, they present recommendations for current practice, and possible trajectories for further research in Part Three.

This is a book to be read backwards.

Researchers will find a wealth of open questions in Chapter Eleven, and will find that by beginning with that chapter, followed by a careful reading of the relevant chapters in Part One, they will be able to set up a meaningful research trajectory for their future work.

Student development professionals may best be served by beginning with Chapter Ten, for a good overview of methods via which they may approach their work in an outcome-based, assessment oriented manner. This chapter serves as an excellent introduction to the implications and suggestions provided at the close of each chapter in Part Two. Perhaps the best advice offered in Chapter Ten is attributed to Weick (1984) – that large-scale problems may best be solved not with a large-scale solution, but with many small, targeted programs. The authors also discuss the need for programs to match the priorities and culture of each institution, and stress the benefits of collaboration by stakeholders across the university (i.e. student affairs, faculty, development, senior administrators, and students) and in the larger community.

Student affairs professionals and faculty working directly with students will do best to progress to the “Implications” sections at the end of each chapter in Part Two, depending on which areas of student development are of most interest. Each chapter sets out a number of useful approaches to designing programs that will work directly on each area of concern. Senior institutional officers and development officers will find these sections of special interest and will be able to use the suggestions presented in their work as well.

In Chapter Five the authors discuss many different student development theories with a focus on the evolution of students’ identity. The implications section at the end of this chapter is especially good, in that it ties together much of the information presented with suggested courses of action for both student affairs staff and members of the faculty. Chapter Six provides a number of recommendations with regard to the effects of college on students’ development as citizens. Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine address the student as a developing “educated person,” “skilled worker,” and “life skills manager,” respectively.

For readers requiring more background it would then be helpful to read the beginnings of Chapters Five through Nine. This will provide a more complete foundation for the suggestions of the authors, and may spark new thoughts in the reader, who will already have been primed by reading the ends of these chapters.

Finally, for those who want a more thorough grounding in the history of the field and how it has come to its present state, Part One of the book offers an excellent introduction to the evolution of the mission of higher education (in Chapter One), the history of student development as a field (Chapter Two), the influence of environmental factors on student development (Chapter Three), and the evolving role of student affairs as a field (Chapter Four).

Chapter One examines some historical developments in American post-secondary education that gave rise to different sorts of colleges, fulfilling a variety of different missions. These include the traditional liberal arts institutions, state colleges, community colleges, and colleges developed to serve particular populations or fields.

In Chapter Two, the authors provide a relatively comprehensive, if compact, view of human development. In order to provide the widest possible spectrum, however, they do so in a fairly cursory way. The feeling is not unlike that of running through a gallery of paintings at top speed, and attempting to glance at the various masterpieces as one passes by. Unfortunately, this approach suffers because there is little attempt to integrate the different points of view presented. We can see, for example, that the paintings we are passing seem to be related, but as yet, no one has told us how, nor what, that should mean to us when we reach the next gallery. While there is some synthesis in the discussion section of this chapter, it would be more helpful to include it during the presentation of the original material, to help the reader make sense of what is otherwise a prodigious mass of information.

Chapter Three discusses research focused on the effects of the campus environment on student development. The chapter begins with students’ needs for challenge, involvement, and validation. The authors then discuss the physical setting of the campus and how people congregate and organize themselves in groups. This is followed by a review of theories concerned directly with creating a positive learning environment.

Chapter Four relates the role of student affairs in the learning process.  Here Hamrick, Evans, and Schuh make the case that the field of student affairs must move from the periphery to the center of the higher educational enterprise. If we view learning holistically, we must acknowledge that much of what is learned in college is learned outside the classroom. This implies the need for a “seamless” environment, in which every part of the campus environment – housing, activities, etc. – contributes to the ongoing development of the students. They make the case that for this to happen, graduate education of student affairs professionals must be multidisciplinary, including many areas of study, such as human development, counseling, learning theory, etc.

My only real unhappiness with this work is its redundancy. It seems that this book was actually designed so that the individual chapters might stand alone as individual monographs. In assembling this book, much could have been done to reduce this tendency by assuming that a reader may recall information from chapter to chapter or refer back to previous information as needed. In future editions the authors might also be encouraged to reorganize the text so that readers will be able to get the most out of it without having to skip about between chapter endings and parts.

In all, I found Foundations of Student Affairs Practice: How Philosophy, Theory, and Research Strengthen Educational Outcomes to be an excellent synthesis of information from several disciplines. I especially recommend it to professionals entering the field of student development, and faculty and administrators looking for a good introduction to the field.


Weick, K. E. (1984). Small wins: Redefining the scale of social problems. American Psychologist, 39, 40-49.                                    

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 7, 2003, p. 1270-1273
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11124, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 11:54:46 AM

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About the Author
  • William Altman
    Ithaca College
    E-mail Author
    WILLIAM S. ALTMAN, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at Ithaca College.
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