Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations ed. by Stephen J. Quaye and Shaun R. Harper (review)
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Reviewed by
Stephen J. Quaye and Shaun R. Harper (Editors). Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014. 374 pp. Hardcover: $170. ISBN: 978-0-415-89509-5

Since taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama and his administration have made college completion a national priority. Specifically, he set the ambitious goal that “by 2020, this nation will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world” (Office of the Press Secretary, 2009). Yet, as his final year in office nears, approximately 40 percent of all students who pursue higher education at U.S. colleges and universities fall short in successfully attaining a bachelor’s degree (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015). Moreover, though access has improved, the odds of completing any postsecondary degree are still less certain for historically underrepresented and underserved student populations. The factors that impact persistence to degree completion among diverse college students are multifaceted and complex. Notwithstanding, in the second volume of Student Engagement in Higher Education, editors Stephen J. Quaye and Shaun R. Harper reject the pervasive notion in educational contexts that certain students enter college “at-risk.” This seemingly innocuous term suggests “some students [or groups of students] are in jeopardy of not succeeding” (p. 11).

Building on the first edition, this volume employs an even broader definition of diversity and fulfills the editors’ aims of capturing specific challenges [End Page 473] faced by a range of student populations with substantive guidance on how to foster inclusive, engaged campus communities. This foundational and impressive text will offer much utility in training new professionals in student affairs programs. Additionally, it offers guidance to administrators interested in learning new strategies for engaging their increasingly diverse student bodies. Indeed, Student Engagement in Higher Education is a timely and necessary resource for student affairs educators, faculty, and institutional leaders.

Drawing from the expertise of 42 contributors, this volume builds on the first edition by offering perspectives primarily from faculty and full-time professionals in academic and student affairs who come from a range of two-year and four-year institutions of higher education. Two chapters were also co-authored with graduate students. This comprehensive text is organized into 21 chapters, each following a similar structure. Through an extensive review of the literature, the reader is first introduced to the unique challenges facing a specific student population. Next, theory is introduced to help inform practice. Chapters then conclude with substantive strategies for developing intentionally designed student engagement opportunities.

In the opening chapter, Harper and Quaye provide an operational definition for student engagement, describe key differences between engagement and involvement, and survey important literature on engagement outcomes and the positive gains that students can accrue in persistence and several other domains. To conclude the chapter, they make a compelling case “that students are placed at risk for dropping out of college when educators are negligent in customizing engagement efforts that connect them to campus” (p. 11). Harper and Quaye go on to argue that this form of negligence is synonymous with “magical thinking:”

The [magical thinking] rationale provides no guidance for campuses on assembling the appropriate means to create environments conducive to realizations of the benefits of diversity or on employing the methods necessary to facilitate the educational process to achieve those benefits. Under this rationale, the benefits will accrue as if by magic.

Rather than perpetuate “magical thinking” by assuming that all students will obtain the intended benefits and outcomes from services provided, they assert that a position of intentionality will ensure that faculty and student affairs educators are “conscious of every action they undertake and are able to consider the long-range implications of decisions” (p. 6). The next few chapters explore racial groups in higher education (including the intersection of race and gender), including college students of Color (Chapter 2), women of Color (Chapter 3), men of Color (Chapter 4), White students (Chapter 5), and multiracial students (Chapter 6). Chapter 7 touches on the topic of national origin by discussing international students. Chapters 8-10 discuss engagement of students with...