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Latinos in Higher Education and Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Creating Conditions for Student Success
Date Reviewed: February 19, 2015
Much is at stake in the effort to improve the success of Latino/a students in American higher education. The remarkable growth of this population in recent years is expected to continue well into the twenty-first century, and higher education remains one of the surest routes to long-term stability in our society. At the same time, Latino/as continue to lag behind other racial/ethnic groups in higher educational attainment. Recognizing that American colleges and universities were not established with the distinctive needs of the Latino/a demographic in mind, researchers in education have spent the last two decades investigating ways to identify and dismantle barriers to Latino/a success. Each of the five authors in this volume have made significant contributions to this body of research and are well-poised to help guide the reader through the considerable results.
This volume, part of a series published by the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), begins with an overview of the demographic diversity that characterizes the population conventionally designated as Latino/a or Hispanic (the authors use these terms interchangeably). By briefly addressing the distinctive attributes of various ethnic subgroups, the authors highlight the variety of nationalities, languages, and other variables that characterize this population. The pan-ethnic terminology, however, does highlight shared challenges that Latino/a college students often face, including racism, difficulties building community (Chapter 3), and frequent deficiencies in college readiness (Chapter 4).
After summarizing research on the most pressing challenges facing Latino/a college students, the authors turn to approaches that have been attempted more broadly, that is those intended to address needs of various under-represented groups (Chapter 5), as well approaches more narrowly focused on the distinctive needs of Latino/a students (Chapter 6). A variety of promising programs are presented, with potential impact on virtually every aspect of college life: academic, financial, cultural, and social. The authors devote particular attention to initiatives that build on the resources Latino/a students already possess. Programs that perceive the strong ties characterizing many Latino/a families as a potential asset, for example, have proven to be more effective than those that cast familial bonds as potentially hindering student success. The clearly written overview of the origins and development of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) in Chapter 7 adds to the usefulness of the volume, as does the practical recommendations for faculty in the concluding chapter. The authors cite a recent study, for example, which suggests that when faculty are conceptualized as “retention agents,” a healthy shift in institutional norms can occur.
Although this volume will be of interest to Religious Studies and Theology faculty and administrators at a variety of institutions, those employed at current or emerging HSIs will find its overview of recent research to be particularly valuable as we strive to enhance our institutional effectiveness with Latino/a students. Indeed, the text suggests that those who teach or work in religion and theology may even have a distinctive role to play; among the cultural patterns or orientations identified as being typically shared by Latino/as is an emphasis on religious faith and spirituality. This orientation suggests that faculty and administrators in these areas are well-positioned to have an impact on the educational experience of our Latino/a students.This well-written survey makes a strong case for prioritizing such efforts.
Leading the e-Learning Transformation of Higher Education: Meeting the Challenges of Technology and Distance Education
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2015
This book stretches a reader’s view of online learning. The contribution made by these twelve chapters, written individually and jointly, does not come in the form of new theories of learning or innovative models for administering educational institutions in a digital era. Rather, they stretch the reader’s view beyond a few courses to address a complete institutional whole. Rarely does the tone become boosterish, despite the word “transformation” in the title. The writers have done the hard work of leading distance education into the mainstream of the institutions they serve. They map the work they have done and the work that still needs to be done. The resulting map is detailed, complex, and extensive. Reading the chapters should scare away anyone who thinks online education is a quick fix for any of the issues confronting higher education. The depth of work chronicled removes naivety.
The seven writers have worked at large institutions, such as Penn State. At first glance teachers and administrators at seminaries with sixty to two hundred students might be inclined to bypass the narratives and guidance offered. That would be a mistake. Schools both large and small need to make policy and procedural decisions, secure technical support, provide pedagogical support for learners and teachers, deploy student services, market programs, and so forth. The list is long. It is as long as the to-do list of any residential program. The business office, the library, campus pastor, the registrar – all of these and more – require attention. What is assumed and hence nearly invisible in residential programs becomes visible and needs to be deliberately addressed in distance education. Once the proximity of teacher and learner in time and/or distance is no longer a given the entire institution is rearranged. Reconceptualization needs to occur institutionally. Despite the difference in scale, the obligations to learners are very similar.
Where there is a significant difference between the experience of the writers and many readers of this journal is the background of the writers prior to the experiences that are at the center of these chapters; they worked in distance education prior to the web. They worked in programs employing audio and video satellite connections or distributing tapes and CDs to individual distance learners. Spatial and temporal distance between teachers and learners was not unimaginable and the challenges of design and support had been faced. They had already worked in a world not exclusively shaped by residential models. In this respect, the move to online learning was not as abrupt or disorienting, but the change was nevertheless extensive and required continual new learning. The web brought distance learning from the margin to the mainstream of their institutions. In the past, residential students did not need to worry about satellite linkages, but now they do bring their computers into the classroom and social media connects their lives. Temporal and spatial barriers may not be entirely overcome but they clearly are not what they were prior to the mid-1990s. These writers have come to grips with the changes; they have lived them.
The book has a high degree of integration; the writers have worked together in several settings, the most prominent being the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C, now named the Online Learning Consortium). The book is divided into three parts and works with the “Five Pillars of Quality Online Education” developed by the consortium. In four chapters, Part One addresses the first pillar: “access, which relates to the role of online distance education in an institution’s fundamental mission and institutional strategy” (xii). Gary Miller, who is one of the authors for three chapters in this section, repeatedly offers wise counsel and sounds cautionary notes. The following typifies his contributions: “[M]ission is mission critical. No institution that has online learning as a significant part of its current or emerging strategy will be successful if the mission of the institution does not clearly recognize it. Too often the online program strategy is not driven by mission” (35). Miller’s individually authored chapter (“Leading Change in the Mainstream: A Strategic Approach”) is an exemplary model for clear-headed thinking in these highly disruptive times. The past institutional culture has to be understood and respected, not in a perfunctory manner, but as an asset for engaging the unavoidable changes occurring in the environment in which that culture now exists. External forces cannot be scolded away but neither should the future of our institutions merely capitulate to them; rather, they need to be understood and deliberated within our inherited institutional cultures in order to faithfully and effectively serve the stakeholders to which faculty are responsible. The learners are at the center of those responsibilities.
Part Two, in five chapters, addresses “enduring operational excellence.” It is not written in the tone of a how-to manual. None of the five authors use their own institutional experience as a template for others. Learning effectiveness, faculty satisfaction, and student satisfaction are the pillars addressed. Reading these pages, one is impressed by how these leaders have worked within an emerging field; stability is not assumed or sought. There is a clear recognition of the fluidity of the present context, but at the same time there is an emphasis on understanding the current institutional contexts and working institutionally. Leading is not understood in heroically individual terms.
Part Three addresses cost effectiveness and institutional commitment. The goal is to sustain the innovation. Perhaps some readers will be surprised to find a chapter on leading beyond the institution. However, the authors view participation in professional organizations as a constitutive dimension of institutional sustainability. Institutions develop local leadership by supporting faculty and administrative participation in broad networks. Networks generate flexibility for addressing specific actions within an institution’s responsibility to its mission and stakeholders. In fact, this entire book is marked by sharing experiences and expertise to enhance effectiveness; it is decidedly not proprietary in tone or content. The closing chapter is a roundtable discussion responding to over a dozen questions that take up the future of online education. The writers stress an “actionable” future. Here, and throughout the book, these leaders dream with their feet on the ground.
Coupling pragmatic effort with openness to emergent possibilities, the writers have provided a reflective narrative that should inform the work of boards, faculty, administrators, staff, and other stakeholders. Online learning is not merely an add-on; it signals a shift in institutional culture. This book underscores the extent of the cultural shift while being grounded in the day-to-day realities of institutional work.
Religion, Education, Dialogue and Conflict: Perspectives on Religious Education Research
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2015
Between 2006 and 2009 Wolfram Weisse and a team of researchers in eight European countries conducted pioneering research on the topic of religion and education. The project, known as REDCo, focused on adolescents, but also examined teacher beliefs and practices about religion and education. At the heart of this research is the question of whether learning about religion in schools can contribute to social harmony or social cohesion. Methodologically, the combined qualitative and quantitative approaches the team used sought to examine a number of aspects of this question. Religion, Education, Dialogue and Conflict reports on some of the results of the REDCo project.
Unquestioned in much of this research is the desirability of students’ learning about religion in schools in one form or another. In other words, the question of whether learning about religion in schools can contribute to social harmony is for the most part transformed into an assumption, rather than retained as a research question. This can perhaps be forgiven if one examines the data as reported in this volume: across the chapters (written by key researchers in REDCo, including Robert Jackson who is a pioneer in this area of research), students themselves affirm the importance of education about religion as facilitating respect and the ability to live in a diverse society.
The diversity of results and the variations on the studies reported raise issues associated with conducting multi-sited research. Social and cultural context is such that one can never perfectly replicate research across national boundaries. REDCo seems to have responded to these variations admirably by giving researchers the freedom to fine tune the research design in a site-specific manner. Thus teachers in the U.K., for example, wrote reflective diaries that enabled Miller and McKenna to analyse differences and similarities between teacher and student beliefs about religion and education. There was, it turned out, considerable agreement between teachers and students about their commitment to pluralism and respect for religion. The freedom to respond to local context might be seen as part of the broader theoretical framework -- Robert Jackson’s interpretive approach -- relying on ethnographic methods to employ a student and teacher centered approach to the study of religion and education. Only by taking such an approach can we begin to decipher the usefulness of education about religion, which should not be taken as a given but held in critical tension with an examination of religion, and knowledge about it, in the education of future citizens.
Since REDCo’s completion, there has been a flurry of research activity on the broad subject of religion and education. For all of us engaged in these activities, it is vital to learn what we can from the path-breaking efforts of the REDCo researchers. So, for example, a theme that recurs across the chapters is that students believe that “doing things together” is a key strategy for developing understanding about the “other.” This recognition, which mirrors a great deal of research on diversity management and social cohesion, seems to warrant further exploration, through, perhaps, an examination of students’ (and teachers’) experiences of shared activities with those who belong to religions (or no religion) other than their own.
Transforming Ourselves, Transforming the World: Justice in Jesuit Higher Education
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2015
In 2000, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, delivered a landmark address entitled “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education.” In it, he raises the question, what is the “whole person” that Jesuit institutions seek to educate? His answer: “Tomorrow’s ‘whole person’ cannot be whole without an educated awareness of society and culture with which to contribute socially, generously, in the real world… [Students] should learn to perceive, think, judge, and act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed” (11). Spurred on by the sentiments expressed by Fr. Kolvenbach and others, faculty and administrators at Jesuit universities across the nation have developed a remarkable array of responses to the call for justice in education. The task of Mary Beth Combs and Patricia Ruggiano Schmidt’s edited volume was to gather many of those who have been responsible for the progress in justice education made in Jesuit institutions in the last decade and a half, highlight their work, and give them a platform from which to share what they have learned in the process about effectively educating for justice. They have succeeded admirably.
The first two sections feature ways in which faculty evoke in their students the kind of solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized from which the work of justice springs. Readers of this journal will find particularly evocative and potentially useful Carol Kelly and Christopher Pramuk’s use of the arts, particularly music, to open students’ minds to appreciating how the world looks from the perspective of the poor and neglected among us. Many of the essays focus on various kinds of “academic immersion.” These range from something as simple as incorporating a strategic service learning component into a class, to summer courses abroad where advanced students work to help a population in need, to a full semester living and learning among some of the world’s poorest inhabitants. Another theme addressed in several essays is curricular change at the department or college level. This is perhaps a more daunting task, as it requires the cooperation of faculty and administrators. But there is also an opportunity here for departments of religion, in our often secularizing institutions, to perhaps discover a new means of making the content of our discipline more relevant to the practical concerns of our students and the world outside our classroom. The third section contains a number of reflections on establishing more justice-centered institutional modi operandi. These will interest faculty concerned with shaping campus culture outside their own classroom.
On occasion, the authors press their conclusions about what “works” beyond the warrant of their limited experiences. Nevertheless, this book remains an excellent source of inspiration and ideas for bringing students into contact with “the gritty reality of this world” (11), so that they not only learn the content of their discipline, but also begin to discover possibilities for its meaningful application in the service of justice. I highly recommend it as a starting place for thinking about how to make any course or program in religion a more transformative, justice-centered endeavor.
How College Works
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2015
College students respond to my enthusiasm for old-fashioned dorms − long hallways, shared rooms, communal bathrooms − with the same eye-rolling disdain I once brought to my mother’s valorization of a three-mile walk to school. So when I heard that authors Chambliss and Takacs extol dorm life in How College Works, I was curious. Would they affirm other staples of college life from a bygone era? Book in hand, I discovered that the authors’ massive database, compiled by mining Hamilton College resources (including graduating student surveys, one thousand student papers collected over five years, and campus focus groups) and following a hundred Hamilton College students from their first year to ten years past graduation, supports research findings that confirm the value of several longstanding practices at liberal arts colleges. Although the authors acknowledge that Hamilton College is not representative of American higher education (it ranks fifteenth on US News & World Report’s list of national liberal arts colleges), they suggest that their exclusive focus on Hamilton has enabled them to uncover, beneath the kinds of statistical correlations that both define and constrain large-scale studies, experiences crucial to a good college education anywhere. I agree. On my reading, their findings and recommendations (evidence-based, resource neutral, and free of red tape) are relevant for schools with profiles far different than Hamilton’s.
Although the authors do advocate traditional dorms because they correlate with enhanced student engagement, most of their recommendations focus on the faculty. (1)Put your best teachers in your first-year classes. First-year students tend to choose their courses based on their time and location, not their subject matter. Students follow a compelling professor into a second or third course, often becoming de facto majors before they become declared majors. Because students perceive that a professor is the discipline she teaches, students dismiss an entire field after one bad course. (2)Frontload writing-intensive classes: students experience the biggest gains during their first two years, and the weakest students gain the most. (3) Engage students outside the classroom. Graduating seniors report that dinner at a professor’s home had a profound impact. Crunching the numbers from two thousand senior surveys and controlling for GPA, major, gender, race, and so forth, the authors were startled to discover that students who were a guest in a professor’s home even once have an 11 percent higher college satisfaction score than students who were never a guest. (4) Don’t equate college success only with assessable skills. Yes, alumni do comment on the difference that their writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills make in the workplace. But alumni who are highly satisfied with their college experience also report “confidence” and “relationships” as key outcomes. Alumni repeatedly attest to a sense of efficacy they attribute to four years of taking on and successfully meeting challenges, and they strongly affirm not only friendships forged in college but also their membership in a community that, over four years, shaped their identities and their values. Evidence, not nostalgia, supports the authors’ case that three factors − skills, confidence, and relationships − comprise an index of satisfaction that shows how college works, now as in the past.