In recent years, universities have faced the criticism that higher education has deviated too far from its original mission to educate the student. In this book, the authors bring the spotlight back on the students by conducting in-depth studies of ten universities that exemplify the ideal of helping students find purpose; they then extract and present the main characteristics that make these institutions successful in holistic development of students. Their study, entitled “Fostering Student Development through Faculty Development” and funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc. and the John Templeton Foundation, selected ten colleges for case-studies out of 500 originally surveyed. The ten, all colleges associated with one of ten church denominations, varied in region, church denomination, size, affinity with the church, mission, adherence to religious perspective, selection process, and/or being a good place to work. All the schools had three common qualities: putting students first in their mission, committing to educate students holistically, and having desire to assist students in faith development.
The focus on holistic student development that the authors emphasize is rooted in the Personal Investment Theory. This theory looks at the relationship between the students’ patterns of behavior, sociocultural environment, and sense of self. The theory posits that students are personally invested when they use their time, money, and energy in curricular and extracurricular activities. Thus it links students’ engagement on campus to their personal sense of meaning and purpose. The book attempts to define, illustrate, and give integrated examples of holistic student development, as well as suggestions and courses of action for promoting and implementing it.
From their studies of the ten colleges, the authors recognize four key elements central to fostering holistic student development: culture, curriculum, cocurriculum, and community. In each of the colleges, these four components were shaped to primarily serve the student. Culture includes the mission and identity of the school and often embodies supporting and challenging the students. Curriculum must revolve around faculty creating safe classrooms in order to nurture student learning and development. The importance of relationships to facilitate student development manifests itself in the cocurricular realm. Finally, students need to feel like they are part of the community in order to learn and develop. These ‘4Cs’, as the authors term them, constitute the basis for holistic student development and must be looked at carefully at each institution to determine how to shape them to best fit the students. Additionally, throughout the book, the authors emphasize the importance of integrating the administration and the faculty: each should both support and challenge students to spur them to find purpose.
Putting Students First has done exactly that: it has demonstrated the essence of holistic student development and exemplified how to successfully implement it on the college campus. Each section of the book considers the specific roles of faculty, staff, administration, and ministry, but also underlines the importance of all working toward the common goal of developing the student purposefully. Questions at the end of each chapter serve to stimulate discussion among campus leaders on how to incorporate holistic student learning on their own campuses. Additionally, chapters describing the 4Cs include profiles of the colleges to provide insight into specific actions or programs that support a holistic approach to student development.
By selecting and scrutinizing these ten colleges, Braskamp, Trautvetter, and Ward demonstrate that higher education is indeed addressing the spiritual, emotional, and social needs of students. They illustrate the way these schools have been effective and provide a basis for further discussion and action. However, their study is limited to small, Christian, liberal arts colleges where teaching and students have traditionally been held in high regard. We have yet to see if these values are being or can be translated into a larger, more diverse higher education setting. (Searle Center for Teaching Excellence Newsletter, Nortwestern University, June 2006)
—Jon F. Wergin, Professor, Ph.D. Program in Leadership and Change, Antioch University