Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
How College Works

How College Works

Daniel F. Chambliss
Christopher G. Takacs
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    How College Works
    Book Description:

    Constrained by shrinking budgets, can colleges do more to improve the quality of education? And can students get more out of college without paying higher tuition? Daniel Chambliss and Christopher Takacs conclude that limited resources need not diminish the undergraduate experience.How College Worksreveals the decisive role that personal relationships play in determining a student's success, and puts forward a set of small, inexpensive interventions that yield substantial improvements in educational outcomes. At a liberal arts college in New York, the authors followed nearly one hundred students over eight years. The curricular and technological innovations beloved by administrators mattered much less than did professors and peers, especially early on. At every turning point in undergraduate lives, it was the people, not the programs, that proved critical. Great teachers were more important than the topics studied, and just two or three good friendships made a significant difference academically as well as socially. For most students, college works best when it provides the daily motivation to learn, not just access to information. Improving higher education means focusing on the quality of relationships with mentors and classmates, for when students form the right bonds, they make the most of their education.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72609-3
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. 1 The Search for a Solution
    (pp. 1-16)

    In an era of fixed or even shrinking resources, can the quality of collegiate education be improved at no additional cost? Can students get more out of college without spending more money? We believe the answer is yes. We believe that there are methods—simultaneously reliable, powerful, available, and cheap—for improving what students gain from college. Such methods consistently work well, handsomely repay whatever effort goes into them, can be used by almost anyone, and require not much time and almost no additional money. When one knows where to look, these methods are available both to formally designated higher...

  4. 2 Entering
    (pp. 17-39)

    ʺGoing to collegeʺ means more than enrolling in courses and pursuing a degree. For traditional-age students at a residential college, it also means entering a new community, stepping into the exhilarating but sometimes frightening world of incipient adulthood.¹ When students successfully enter this community of young adults, it can—potentially—energize and motivate them for learning, for excelling at athletics, for socializing (yes—for partying, drinking, hooking up), for giving tremendous loyalty to the institution, for pursuing careers, and sometimes even for becoming, as the cliché has it, “lifelong learners.” When they don’t successfully enter socially or academically, students often...

  5. 3 Choosing
    (pp. 40-66)

    In an inescapable irony, college students make the freest yet most consequential decisions of their college careers when they are relatively new, that is, when they least know what they’re doing. We’ve already seen that incoming freshmen face the initial challenge of successfully entering the social world of the college. Right away they must find the cafeteria, meet some peers, share space with roommates, pick some courses to take, join a club or two, and—within weeks—probably wash their own clothes, perhaps for the first time in their lives. At many schools they also find an apartment, declare a...

  6. 4 The Arithmetic of Engagement
    (pp. 67-77)

    Letʹs stop for a moment at this halfway point in our narrative. Until now we’ve looked at students’ experiences, and we’ve seen that apparently small factors or even chance can sometimes lead to very important outcomes; that apparently minor decisions can often have major results; and that teachers matter, not only by inspiring students but sometimes, unfortunately, by discouraging them as well. We’ve also seen that what students want is sometimes not what they actually need, even to satisfy their own immediate wishes: unattractive “high-contact” dorms can help to produce the friendships that students most require for success in college....

  7. 5 Belonging
    (pp. 78-103)

    By the middle of sophomore year, almost all students at the collegebelong. They have publicly committed themselves by declaring a major, by choosing or refusing roommates, by selecting a faculty advisor, by sticking with or quitting a sports team, and by joining, leading, or leaving a number of extracurricular activities. Some students are members of the campus “alternative” crowd: living in a co-op dorm, eating on the vegetarian meal plan, maybe studying photography or art.¹ Others are sorority officers, maybe planning to study abroad in Italy while majoring in art history. Some like Joe, quoted above, are deeply immersed...

  8. 6 Learning
    (pp. 104-133)

    By their junior year, most students at the college are at the top of their game. They have met and passed the challenges to enter college, choose a direction, connect with teachers, and belong to various groups. They have friends and participate in activities. Many are leaders of some sort: soloists in musical ensembles, stars in college theatre, the social chairs of sororities, editors of student publications, initiators of class discussions. Though not officially captains of their sports teams (those are seniors), juniors are frequently thede factoleaders of squads.

    They are more confident, too. As freshmen, they were...

  9. (pp. 134-153)

    For students at the college, senior year is a time of pride and fear—pride at having surmounted the challenges and learned so much; fear at the approaching end of this phase of one’s life, and of being forced (unless graduate school intervenes) to finally face the “real world” with its shocking shortage of safety nets. It’s a time of transition, a bit like when they first came to college, of leaving one world and entering another. It’s also a time for summing up, for realizing what one has gained.

    Their immediate challenge is to remain fully engaged in the...

  10. 8 Lessons Learned
    (pp. 154-174)

    How does college work? How does a college produce whatever positive gains its students make? In this book, we have followed students through their college careers in order to understand, from their point of view, what makes a difference. We have been interested in the growth of the students themselves—in their skills, experiences, happiness, and so on—not in the extrinsic “outcomes” such as jobs or increased salaries that depend on other people. Along the way, we have tried to discernhowan institution helps its students learn, in the broad sense. This is certainly not a comprehensive study,...

  11. Appendix: Methods
    (pp. 177-182)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 183-200)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 201-204)
  14. Index
    (pp. 205-208)