- Putting Students First: How Colleges Develop Students Purposefully
Putting Students First has a catchy title which should entice student affairs professionals since students are the primary focus in our field. Even the subtext heading is intriguing. What the title doesn't tell you is that the book is a study of how ten church and faith-related colleges and universities are purposeful in promoting holistic development in students, especially in terms of moral and spiritual development. While the focus is on an important subset of higher education institutions, the book provides value and meaning to anyone working with students.
The overall design of the project included surveying upper-level academic administrators to learn how faculty are expected to foster student development. The authors then completed ten in-depth case studies of faith-based institutions across the country, including one historically Black institution. The studies included interviews with deans, provosts, student affairs administrators, and students. The heart of the book was written around 4 C's: culture, curriculum, co-curriculum, and communities. [End Page 237]
As might be expected, one of the elements of success for faith-based institutions was the holistic curriculum. The colleges studied are also very intentional in connecting in-class and out-of-class learning. Many faculty and student affairs staff cited in the book provided examples of how these connections occurred, as well as detailing the on-going efforts made to enhance these connections. The authors also discussed how faith-based missions serve as a guide for the work being done at these institutions and how it is the responsibility of the president to lead the institution toward fulfilling that mission. They described the role of the president as "leadership of being rather than doing" (p. 56).
The discussion of institutional fit, for both students and faculty, was central throughout the book. Some institutions described this more in terms of "readiness" rather than fit or match. A number of examples were given of how these institutions select new faculty based on their potential to adapt to the culture. The authors also described how the institutions in the study provide intentional orientation and preparation on an on-going basis, with conversations on the purposeful development of students continuing throughout a faculty member's career.
Though the topic of multiculturalism was explored, it could have been developed more significantly, especially considering that all but one of the campuses studied were predominantly White. Like many colleges and universities, the participants of the study identified diversity as a challenge. A number of the institutions reside in diverse neighborhoods and they described intentionally reaching out to support these communities and to provide their students experiences with individuals from different ethnic or social classes. Given the increased attention placed on issues of multiculturalism on our campuses today, this area could have been expanded to provide more specific strategies and successes.
As someone who has worked only at public, research institutions, it was interesting to learn more about how small colleges and universities connect to their students. Manning (2006) pointed out that many graduate preparation programs are located at research institutions and thus may not prepare students for experiences in small colleges or universities. This book would be a useful tool to address that concern. The book also provides conversation questions at the end of each chapter, which would be valuable in graduate preparation classroom or staff development settings. I know I learned more about how faith-based institutions purposefully serve their students and it challenged me to apply the concepts in my current work. We all should believe in "putting students first" and developing our students purposefully; this is a useful book to assist in that process.