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Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter

By George D. Kuh, Jillian Kinzie, John H. Schuh, Elizabeth J. Whitt and Associates
400 pages
ISBN: 0-7879-7914-7
$38 (hardcover)

And the Companion Volume

Assessing Conditions to Enhance Educational Effectiveness

By George D. Kuh, Jillian Kinzie, John H. Schuh, and Elizabeth J. Whitt
112 pages
ISBN: 0-7879-8220-2
$27 (paper)

Reviewed by

Sonya Hildreth

Learning Resource Center
California State University, Fresno


Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter and its companion volume, Assessing Conditions to Enhance Educational Effectiveness, address an increasing interest in retaining students and creating educational environments conducive to their success (graduation). While this topic is not new in higher education, universities across the nation are being pressed with new challenges from federal and state governments to increase retention and raise graduation rates. Organizations such as American College Testing and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities have conducted recent studies on retention and graduation rates and published reports attempting to provide insight and guidance to university leaders.

Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter endeavors to answer the question, “what does an educationally effective college or university look like at the turn of the 21st century?” (xvi). The authors systematically examined twenty colleges and universities with higher-than-predicted graduation rates and scores on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). The companion text, Assessing Conditions to Enhance Educational Effectiveness, offers suggestions and support for college and university leaders working to improve student engagement and graduation rates. Student Success in College uses data-driven exploration to illuminate effective practices of these campuses in seeking to engage students as partners in learning. The introductory Part One describes the project Documenting Effective Educational Practice (DEEP), which through analysis of NSSE results has probed into twenty campuses in order to glean the essence of their success in engaging students.

Part Two outlines these six overarching features found in common among the twenty campuses:

  • “Living” Mission and “Lived” Educational Philosophy
  • An Unshakeable Focus on Student Learning
  • Environments Adapted for Educational Enrichment
  • Clear Pathways to Student Success
  • An Improvement-Oriented Ethos
  • Shared Responsibility for Educational Quality and Student Success

Each chapter addresses a different feature in detail with examples drawn among these campuses. “An Unshakeable Focus on Student Learning” describes a profound commitment on all study campuses for holistic student learning. It includes examples and suggestions for valuing undergraduates, experimenting with active and collaborative learning, connecting students with faculty, and emphasizing practical application of knowledge.

The authors are quick to point out that having these six features does not necessarily mean the institutions are the best of the 700 that used NSSE by 2003. Rather, because their performance was noteworthy, by examining these practices, other institutions might beneficially adapt them. The authors also emphasize that it is not merely the existence of particular programs or practices, but rather how well they have been implemented and how they have touched large numbers of students in meaningful ways, that are key to the success of these campuses.

Part Three uses five elements of student engagement measured by NSSE (academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, supportive campus environment and enriching educational experiences) to showcase what the twenty campuses do to engage large numbers of students in educationally meaningful activities. A variety of programs, behaviors and activities are described from the twenty campuses studied that fall within and overlap these five areas. Part Four outlines principles for advancing student success, and recommends steps for campuses to consider.

The companion volume, Assessing Conditions to Enhance Educational Effectiveness, offers a blueprint of questions and exercises to guide a campus, department or program in evaluating current practice and implementing measures to engage students in learning. The book is divided into two parts, “Student Success in College: Why It Matters and What Institutions Can Do About It” and “Inventory for Student Engagement and Success.” Part One reviews the guiding principles and rationale for implementing change.

Part Two, Chapter 3, uses the six overarching features to guide educational leaders in assessing conditions on their own campuses and to identify action for improving student success. Chapter 4 guides educational leaders through an assessment of effective educational practice, using the five NSSE elements measuring student engagement. Through lists of questions and vignettes from other campuses, educational leaders are encouraged to explore their own campus practices and implement measures to enhance student engagement and learning.

Numerous interesting and important findings emerge from this study. While all study campuses had multiple programs in place for helping students become successful, it was not the programs alone that had the greatest effect. No one program was common among these campuses. The greatest effect was due to a campus culture based on the belief that students are important and that all students are capable of success. Further, their success is viewed as everyone’s responsibility, from president to faculty to staff to students. Collaboration across reporting lines and inclusion of administration, faculty, staff and students on committees and work groups was prevalent and intentional. These institutions are never satisfied with where they are but are always asking how they can improve. No matter what programs or other features were in place, these elements permeated the campus culture.

These two volumes are indispensable for educational leaders seeking to enhance student engagement and success through effecting a cultural shift on their campuses.


American Association of State Colleges and Universities. (2005). Student success in state colleges and universities: A matter of culture and leadership. Washington, D.C.: author.

Habley, W. R., & McClanahan, R. (2004). What works in student retention? All survey colleges. Retrieved June 2005 from

Posted April 5, 2006.

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board. ©2006 by Sonya Hildreth.

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