2 Books about student experiences and expectations

Promoting Reasonable Expectations

Aligning Student and Institutional Views of the College Experience

By Miller, T., Bender, B., Schuh, J., et al.

Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA 2005

– reviewed by David Newman, University of Alberta

In higher education, a growing focus on the quality of the student experience is clearly evident in our institutions. It has been built more strongly into our institutional vision statements in recent years and is often used for purposes of recruitment, alumni support, and community support. However, what happens when the promises contained in such vision statements cannot be realized? How can we determine what types of promises are meaningful to our students? How do institutions balance the potentially contradictory needs that exist between students, external communities, and the institutions themselves?

The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) commissioned the development of Promoting Reasonable Expectations in response to these questions. The book is authored by several contributors, each coming with different institutional perspectives and varied research interests. Although its contents are completely based on research and experiences from the United States, certainly the messages are transferable to a Canadian context. A common thread woven throughout the chapters relates to the empirical data collected through the College Student Expectations Questionnaire (CSXQ) and the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ), which were jointly administered to 43 institutions in the United States. These data were then used to compare student expectations with their experiences. Resulting from the data and other research, discussion topics include, why we should care about expectations, the impact when student experiences vary from expectations, various type of expectations students have (e.g., campus services, cost of higher education, degree attainment, and life after college), how these expectations influence their experiences, the expectations of various stakeholders in the institutions, and the varied expectations depending on institution type.

Promoting Reasonable Expectations will be of particular interest to senior administrators, recruiters, student affairs/services professionals, and any others responsible for attracting, retaining, and investing in the future of our students. One section of the book addresses the need for institutions to be honest about what they promise to students during the recruitment phase to minimize the disconnect between student expectations and experiences. The message in this section, among others, outlines the need for institutions to collaborate to ensure that their vision statements, communication strategies, and capabilities align with each other.

My Freshman Year

What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student

By Nathan, R.

Cornell University Press, Ithica, NY 2005

My Freshman Year summarizes the ethnographic study findings of the freshman student experience at one institution. The author, also the investigator, is a professor of anthropology and elected to engage in covert research to gain a better understanding of the experiences of the students she teaches. Pseudonyms for the author, subjects, and the institution are used; however, since publication, the identities of the author and institution have been revealed. Although Nathan engaged in covert research and her identity was hidden, her findings support many experiences that student affairs/services professionals know to be true.

While this book may or may not reveal anything ground breaking in its content to those who work with students regularly, it is a worthwhile resource. The language is very accessible and is written in a narrative format, which also clearly outlines the types of issues that first-year students face. As a result, it provides empirical evidence that support the need for potential programming development in our institutions. Such outcomes, however, may become better supported through advocating that senior administrators understand and potentially read this book. Several topics are outlined, including living in residences, orientation programming, admission processes, classroom experiences, professor expectations, and communication issues. Nathan provides both her experiences as a student and thoughtful reflections or analyses of these experiences.

Nathan also makes a very strong effort to outline the limitations of her study, including the ethical questions related to covert research and the use of pseudonym. Of course, since publication, her anonymity has been revealed, raising these issues provides some credibility to her research as thought was given to these issues. Although there are many worthwhile findings in My Freshman Year, questions about the plausibility of Nathan’s experiences being that of a “typical” freshman student may arise. Did her subjects (peer students) view her as a peer, given their age differences? Was she able to participate in “typical” freshman activities? Was she aware of them? What was her role in student life? Aside from these questions, My Freshman Year should appeal to the same audience as recommended in Promoting Reasonable Expectations above.

— reviews by David Newman, University of Alberta

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