The Review of Higher Education 27.2 (2004) 287-288
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David Moxley, Anwar Najor-Durack, and Cecille Dumbrigue. Keeping Students in Higher Education: Successful Practices and Strategies for Retention. London: Kogan Page/Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2001. 240 pp. Paper: $29.95. ISBN: 0-7494-3088-5.
Having engaged in the review of countless manuscripts, research proposals, books, etc., my first inclination was to identify those points made in the book that were strengths or weaknesses, positives or negatives. I finally came to the realization that the reason I found myself struggling with this review was because some points that I found to be positives in the chapters were simultaneously features that I felt were weak. I will begin with a focus on aspects of the book that were definitely good, followed by a discussion on those that could be perceived as either positive or negative, and finish the review with a discussion of those that were definite weaknesses. [End Page 287]
One very positive aspect of the book—and the authors' most significant contribution—was the focus on a psychosocial approach or student-centered approach to the issue of student retention. While there has been a great deal of emphasis on shifting the responsibility for student engagement and persistence from the individual student to the institution, this book stresses the individual nature and character of the student while placing the overwhelming majority of the responsibility for retention on higher education institutions.
A second strength of the book lies in highlighting the importance of collaboration among different internal and external communities, all aimed toward one purpose: the successful retention of undergraduates as well as graduate students. A very constructive facet, and one that is seldom seen, is the strong connection among the student's role, institutional responsibilities, and community involvement as they all relate to the framework introduced by the authors and as they contribute toward a common goal—student retention and success.
That brings us to one of those gray areas; the assumption that the framework in the book is appropriate to both graduate and undergraduate education. While many aspects of the framework may be broadly applied to either group, the argument of its mutual applicability is only minimally addressed and is not very convincing. Moreover, the notion that the framework introduced can be applied internationally becomes troublesome to practitioners who desire more specifics with regard to their own educational settings. The diversity of examples may make it easy to see how the framework can apply to a diverse set of circumstances for diverse student populations at diverse educational institutions. However, for those practitioners seeking ways in which to apply the overall framework at their specific institutions, the wide range of examples for each component might be more confusing than informative.
Although a great majority of the aspects (factors) identified in the authors' retention efforts/programs can be tied to many of the empirical studies in research journals, they made no mention of the link of theory and research to practice and retention efforts. The reader could be left with the impression that research on student persistence plays no part in constructing effective retention initiatives. Much of the book introduces situations, examples, exemplars, etc. that were substantively explored and informed by research findings, yet the authors introduce no references to this literature throughout the book. One criticism often noted with regard to research journals is that not enough of a link from findings to practice is made by researchers. In this case, the opposite may be just as true. Many retention efforts have been based on and guided by research findings. The authors could have taken the opportunity to inform different audiences of the link that exists between real world situations and empirical studies on student and faculty issues to the development of programs and interventions aimed at addressing those issues.
Finally, mostly due to the tremendous overlap in subject matter among the first three chapters in the book (based on the authors' framework guiding the discussion), the book comes across as somewhat repetitive...