posted February 20, 2006

Hope Featured in Book for "Putting Students First"

Hope College is one of only 10 church-related colleges and universities nationwide highlighted in a new book on effective undergraduate education.

The book, "Putting Students First: How Colleges Develop Students Purposefully," argues "that an effective and ideal undergraduate college education is one that centers on holistic student development, including the search for meaning and purpose in life." Published by Anker Publishing Company Inc. of Bolton, Mass., the book was co-authored by Dr. Larry A. Braskamp, Dr. Lois Calian Trautvetter and Dr. Kelly Ward.

"We are honored to be included in this book because it amplifies what we attempt to accomplish every day with our students," said Dr. James Boelkins, provost of Hope College.

"Hope College has a long history of helping students understand their calling by providing an intellectually rigorous academic program, a comprehensive student development program and the freedom to explore one's faith in the context of a vibrant Christian community," Boelkins said. "We accomplish this through a team of outstanding teacher-scholars and staff who are dedicated to our mission."

The 10 institutions highlighted were chosen, the authors note, "to represent the diverse group of the 500 colleges that were founded by one of ten church denominations," and were included specifically for being "individually and collectively distinguished and distinctive in fostering holistic student development."

"While the selected colleges are very supportive of preparing students to be vocationally competitive locally, nationally, and internationally, they argue for an education to be more," the authors state in their introduction. "We selected colleges that intentionally assist

students to ask and 'struggle' with the fundamental questions in life while they are in college."

Of Hope specifically, Braskamp in an interview explained, "We knew of its fine academic reputation and it had a distinct mission regarding faith and religion, and it also represented the Reformed colleges - the Christian Reformed and Reformed."

Braskamp is a professor emeritus of education with Loyola University Chicago, where he also served as senior vice president for academic affairs, and is a senior fellow at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. He is a graduate of Central College, which like Hope is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America. As it happens, he previously experienced Hope as a parent - one of his sons is a 1990 graduate.

The institutions in "Putting Students First" range in size from fewer than 2,000 undergraduates to more than 6,000 (Hope's enrollment this year is 3,141). The authors were deliberate in presenting a variety of church ties, including Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and Baptist. Further, the schools are spread across the country.

"Putting Students First" emphasizes three themes: that colleges and universities are intentional in guiding students in keeping with the institution's mission, that colleges center on helping students find their intellectual and moral purpose, and that faculty are integral in fostering student development.

The book organizes its exploration by culture, curriculum, co-curriculum, and communities in and beyond campus. Examples from each of the 10 institutions are woven throughout, with selected aspects of the institutions treated in-depth. For example, Hope's Senior Seminar program, through which all graduating seniors enroll in a capstone "life-view" course, is highlighted in a two-page profile.

"If I were to name one curricular program that addresses this issue of students developing holistically - that is, they integrate their intellectual life with their faith development - that's an ideal program," Braskamp said.

It is the way that the different dimensions of the colleges interact, Braskamp said, that is central to the schools' success.

"It's the integration of ministry, of student affairs and academic affairs that is very key to how the students view their life," he said. "It takes a whole campus with whole people to develop whole students."

The climate of the campus is another crucial component.

"These are places that are rigorous intellectually and they try to provide a safe environment," Braskamp said. "We spend a fair amount of time talking about safe environment, which is an important element in any college setting. Students can feel comfortable exploring, asking the big questions and coming up with answers that they feel are their own as opposed to somebody else's."

Faculty, he said, are crucial in the process as role models - and students are learning from them not only in the classroom, but also through the way they see them interacting as members of the campus community. "Faculty are models and mentors whether they're aware of it or not," he said.

Braskamp noted that he was struck by how well faculty at the schools challenge and support students at the same time - and, for that matter, by their dedication in general. "I was impressed with how hard faculty members work on these campuses and how much time they give," he said.

"Putting Students First" is the culmination of a three-year research project. The authors first collected survey information on more than 250 church-related colleges and universities, subsequently conducted interviews with more than 30 deans and provosts from the institutions that participated, and then conducted in-depth site visits of the 10 colleges and universities highlighted in the book.

In addition to Hope, the colleges and universities featured in the book are Bethune-Cookman College of Daytona Beach, Fla.; Creighton University of Omaha, Neb.; Hamline University of St. Paul, Minn.; Pacific Lutheran University of Tacoma, Wash.; The College of Wooster of Wooster, Ohio; Union University of Jackson, Tenn.; the University of Dayton of Dayton, Ohio; Villanova University of Villanova, Pa.; and Whitworth College of Spokane, Wash.

Although the 10 institutions featured in "Putting Students First" are all church-related, Braskamp noted that the common themes that emerge from their experiences can readily find application at secular schools as well.

"We used the concept of 'faith development,' which to us is related to finding meaning and purpose in life," he said. "We also used the word 'vocation,' to highlight the questions of 'Who am I?' and 'How can I serve others?'"