Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action
reviewed by Emmanuel Mufti - August 30, 2013
Arguably this latest book by Tinto completes a circle started nearly 30 years ago examining the reasons behind non-completion in higher education. Tinto, through his range of much admired work in this field, particularly his 1993 seminal book Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition, put forward the strong and increasingly accepted argument that institutions must accept high levels of responsibility in ensuring that retention of all students from all social and ethnic backgrounds.
While the work of Tinto and others in the field has often highlighted the issue of who is most likely to leave college, it has not always translated into practical and achievable steps that institutions can take in order to increase retention amongst their student bodies. This is an extremely timely edition both in the USA, the market for which the book is intended, but also in the UK and I would suggest HE institutions internationally.
In the book Tinto outlines four main areas that a range of research, including his own, has the capacity to increase retention, namely, Expectations, Support, Assessment and Feedback, and Involvement. Each of these areas has a chapter devoted to them that includes a review of the research together with relevant case studies from a range of institutions.
In Chapter Two Expectations Tinto draws on a range of research that shows that students entering Higher Education are often unsure of what is expected from them and this is particularly the case for first generation students. He goes on to discuss the level of expectations that we as institutions and tutors have of students and makes the point that high expectations often result in higher performance. This needs to be not only in the classroom but also at an institutional level in terms of orientation matching the actual undergraduate experience, the importance of attendance and the level of investment in teaching facilities and staff.
In Chapter Three Support outlines the need for a wide range of support, including academic support in terms of remedial courses in writing and studying, which has a large impact on students likelihood of success. Tinto expresses a note of caution here and makes the point that it is essential that students complete these programs and arent merely enrolled in them. In addition the chapter discusses the importance of other types of support, including financial and social support, which again forms part of an overall package that institutions have to adopt as part of their culture rather than reducing to individual courses or tutors.
Chapter Four deals with the issue of Assessment and Feedback and how, if utilized properly, they can aid in levels of retention and success. Tinto states that the use of instant feedback through technology such as clickers as part of student response systems can ensure that tutors are aware of any confusion among groups or individual students, and ensure that these are remedied quickly, before they become a larger problem for the students. Tinto provides a range of case studies, most interestingly around ways in which courses have been re-designed as a result of assessment and feedback.
In the final chapter of this section, looking individually at the main issues related to retention, Tinto turns his attention to the issue of Involvement. Tinto states that the more socially and academically engaged students are the more likely they are to graduate. Furthermore, a lack of involvement will often result in a student leaving a course. The point is made that involvement must be meaningful and supportive and that it is essential for institutions to ensure that all students have the opportunity to feel a certain level of involvement and that the needs of all groups are catered for. One way of increasing involvement is within the academic sphere with collaborative learning. This chapter then goes on to provide a series of useful case studies that put many of the issues into context.
The series of chapters outlined above deal quite comprehensively with a range of issues that relate to retention and completion. Most of these areas are well known to those in the field and it is likely that the majority of institutions provide some level of support for one or more of the issues. Where this book differs is in its call for wide-scale institutional approaches to retention and completion, and calling on the senior management of Higher Education institutions to move beyond an ad-hoc approach to retention and completion and instead seek to maintain a real focus on this increasingly important issue. In the final two chapters, Tinto outlines some of the ways in which institutions can seek to achieve this.
In Chapters Six & Seven, Administrative Action and Enhancing Student Success, Tinto outlines a range of ways in which institutions can positively impact retention and completion. He makes the point that access without support is not opportunity and that academic institutions have a responsibility to work actively to increase the likelihood of the success of the students. In common with other chapters this is not just a general call. These chapters contain a range of practical and achievable suggestions on how this may be achieved. In addition a range of case studies offer another level of insight.
The book ends with two useful appendices that give a range of data related to completion, broken down into sub categories of students and institutions. Appendix B gives details on how institutions can assess their own performance in this matter together with a variety of issues to consider when doing so.
Overall, this book is an excellent resource for all those involved in recruitment, retention, and the eventual successful completion of students. This, of course, would be all who work within Higher Education institutions, but most notably the book calls for institutional rather than individual action, which suggests a reading by senior management as well as tutors and recruitment staff. The book is extremely accessible, and while it utilizes a range of academic research, it manages to summarize the research in such a way to provide practical and achievable suggestions. Although it is based primarily on institutions within the USA, this book is suitable for an international audience and should be essential reading for all within the sector.