Student Success in College
reviewed by Carmen McCrink - 2006
Title: Student Success in College
Author(s): George D. Kuh, Jullian Kinzie, John H. Schuch, Elizabeth J. Whitt and Associates
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787979147, Pages: 370, Year: 2005
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What do high-performing colleges do to promote student success, broadly defined? is the question posed by Kuh, Kinzie, Schuch, Whitt, and Associates in Student Success in College. The work presents findings based on the Documenting Effective Educational Practice (DEEP) project at Indiana University, which focused on a study of 20 four-year institutions that participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) between 2000 and 2002. The DEEP team used a regression model to identify colleges and universities that had higher-than-predicted scores on the five clusters of the educational practice context, as exemplified by the NSEElevel of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student interaction with faculty members, enriching educational experiences, and supportive campus environment. The team used a second regression model to identify the institutions which met the following selection criteria: (a) higher than predicted student engagement results and (b) higher than predicted six-year graduation rates.
Kuh et al. state, Like gemstones, the 20 colleges and universities in this study are attractive in some ways (p. 23). Indeed, in todays higher education terrainone striving to surface in a multitude of mines which serve as a mantra for continuous budget cuts, commercialization ventures, and a pervasive apathy on the part of some academicians toward civic responsibilityfinding these gems is refreshing and clearly depicts that which the authors refer to throughout the work as a sense of positive restlessness (p. 317). Notwithstanding, the authors clearly convey that these 20 institutions are not to be portrayed as the best in the nation.
A number of practices have been implemented at these institutions that serve as pillars for that imperative, yet sometimes rather elusive objective, called student success. In essence, these institutions subscribe to a learning organization (Senge, 1990) model where the willingness to effect change in response to the social, economic, and political external forces as well as to internal organizational mechanismsbenchmarking and data-driven decision makingare adopted in lieu of academias proverbial adherence to the management fads syndrome (Birnbaum, 2000). Such a context provides a holistic frame and synergetic structure that serves to foster student engagement and persistence (p. 24). Kuh et al. summarize the features shared by the 20 DEEP institutions: a living mission and lived educational philosophy; an unshakeable focus on student learning; environments adapted for educational enrichment; clearly marked pathways to student success; an improvement oriented ethos; shared responsibility for educational quality and student success (p. 24).
Several of the practices merit attention and should, undoubtedly, provide a schema for governance in todays institutions. Miami Universitys Faculty Learning Community serves to engage small groups of interdisciplinary faculty in annual programs focusing on the scholarship of teaching and learning. Albeit the authors reaffirm the ubiquitous dilemma of balancing teaching and research that sits at the core of most research-intensive institutions, leadership at places such as the University of Kansas and the University of Michigan promotes an emphasis on teaching through student-centered programs that address changing demographics. For example, the University of Kansas has implemented the HAWK Link Program which assists minority students, and the University of Michigan has established the Comprehensive Studies Program which includes supplemental academic instruction to underrepresented students. Within this same context, a cross-section of institutionsWabash, Sweet Briar, University of Michigan, Wofford, California State University at Monterey Bay (CSUMB), University of Kansas, and othersemphasize student-faculty interaction toward maximizing learning and alleviating feelings of isolation on the part of students.
A sense of positive restlessness, as mentioned previously, translates into innovation at these institutions. George Mason University prides itself as a young institution; a staff member states, Theres a sense of growth, openness to trying new things and doing interesting things (p. 149). This remark should spark an awakening on the part of older institutions which tend to remain static and become highly complacent, amidst todays pluralistic campus environments. Programs such as the professional development school model at Fayetteville State University, where (upper-division) education majors spend one day a week in the public schools, are unique in their approach and foster a service learning agenda. In addition, a focus on reading and writing prevails through interdisciplinary freshman-year programs in schools such as Evergreen, Macalester, Wheaton, Miami, and others. At Alverno College, the Center for International and Intercultural Programs sponsors faculty and staff travel to Asia in a curriculum development effort that will serve to present students with a broad knowledge base. This kind of an endeavor on the part of an institution such as Alverno, where more than 70 % of the students are first-generation college women, serves to acquaint these students with the challenge of globalization and the new economy.
Another salient element in these schools is that of internal partnerships. Undoubtedly, in the history of American higher education, student affairs divisions have often been relegated to step-child status. Today, for the most part, student affairs entities are immediately associated with residential units, cultural centers, campus safety, career services, and virtually all other nonacademic aspects of campus life (Weinberg, 2005, p. B13). However, at DEEP schools, a symbiotic relationship does exist between academic affairs and student affairs. At Longwood, Kuh et al. report that student affairs staff are key contributors to summer orientation and the first-year seminar (p. 166). Ursinus Colleges partnership between these two entities promoted the improvement of residence halls in response to the newly revised general education curriculum.
All the aforementioned elements in DEEP schools coalesce and impact on student performance and, thus, respond to the accountability platform, while including all stakeholders. At California State University at Monterey Bay (CSUMB), there is a clear interdependency between assessment measures and faculty development initiatives. Alvernos unique (Eight Abilities) model has been identified as essential in the development of critical thinking skills and serves to improve teaching methodology and curriculum efforts.
In closing, two messages resonate loud and clear from Student Success in College. The authors state, "Educating students is everyone's business" (p 251) and "simply offering various programs and services does not foster student success" (p 264). Those of us who believe that higher educations role is to prepare the next generation for societys common good and the advancement of civilization will benefit greatly from reading about the DEEP schools and implementing as many elements as appropriate.
Birnbaum, R. (2000). Management fads in higher education: Where they came from, what they do, why they fail. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practices of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday.
Weinberg, A. (2005, September 2). An alternative to the campus as Club Med. The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. B13.