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How College Works

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  154 ratings  ·  29 reviews
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 Works reveals the decisive role that personal relationships play in determining ...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published February 17th 2014 by Harvard University Press
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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 ·  154 ratings  ·  29 reviews

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Jul 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
This is quite possibly the most banal piece of social science/sociology of higher ed/ed theory ever conceived. It's 178 pages of truisms and, perhaps, an interesting insight or 2 (max) along the way. I credit the authors for their earnestness -- they really do think they're on to something and that theirs is a critique with transformative potential. But good golly, Molly, could theirs be a more Polly-Anna-ishly obvious critique? And could they not have ventured just one bold new proposal? No spo ...more
A rather quick read. Most of what this book offers are solutions that probably work well in the narrow context in which the authors conducted their research. As someone who teaches at a community college, most of the suggestions just don't apply in such a vastly different context. I liked some of comments at the end regarding innovation and assessment. Otherwise, unless one is really in the same setting, relevance will be hard to find. ...more
Jun 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Short and easy to read, this is the definitive guide to learning how students experience small liberal arts colleges. Written about Hamilton College in New York, using research funded by the Mellon Foundation, this book is certainly a useful read for anybody that cares about small liberal arts colleges.

The authors clearly state that students are their basic unit of analysis, which distinguishes it from many books about higher education. Books about liberal arts colleges tend to be written by col
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
The usual measures of colleges involve programs, courses, and faculty. Chamblis argues that these leave out the crucial dimension of student experience. When we look at college from the perspective of students, Chamblis suggests, the questions become: What do most students get from those cool programs and courses? How many of those stellar faculty do they actually study with?

When looked at from the perspective of students, Chamblis argues, the key issue in college is relationships: Who are my fr
Greta Marlow
Oct 09, 2014 rated it liked it
There were a few things in this book I found valuable for my work in higher education, but most of the observations were nothing new to me. The main thing I found disappointing was that they didn't flesh out their main conclusion - that the key to success is to put the "right" people together. That includes having the "right" teachers in freshman-level classes. Although they danced around the edges of it, the authors didn't say HOW to identify who the right teachers are. I guess that will come i ...more
Nov 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Some good ideas, but not an overwhelming amount of unique content. I felt like the later chapters were repetitive of previous ideas and a little self-congratulatory.
Nov 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
How College Works is focuses on the student experience — really how college works for students, measured by long term student satisfaction. The College in question is Hamilton College in upstate NY. Hamilton has less than 2,000 students and a billion dollar endowment.

The book is one of those books which make three or four essential points, and then fills out the rest of 200 pages with repetition and anecdotes, but the key points are important, and not necessarily obvious or intuitive. The key
Anson Cassel Mills
May 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
There is nothing earthshaking about the findings of this decade-long, social science study of student experience at Hamilton College in upstate New York; but I am gratified that so many of the authors’ assessments line up with common-sense notions that I’ve reached on my own during more than forty years of college teaching. One reason I think the authors have it right is that I teach at a conservative religious college with open admissions, seemingly at opposite poles from the authors’ own secul ...more
Interesting book that may have been better as a series of essays, articles, or blog posts. Compelling info that seemed a bit redundant at times. The biggest takeaways: people matter more than just about anything else, seemingly small/inconsequential choices can have a huge impact, and people matter just about more than anything else.

Wasn't a long read at just about 200 pages, but could have been more succinct. Or maybe I missed the abridged version someplace. An explanation of the methodology a
Lucy Barnhouse
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting and thought-provoking read on student experiences of college, and how individual faculty and administrators can intervene to improve those experiences, and thus education. That causality -- that student experience will indeed have a measurable and significant on the education that faculty see as central to the mission of the institution -- is one of the authors' main claims. By their own admission, they don't spend much time on issues of systemic inequality that drastically affect ...more
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book I've read on higher education. It highlights the importance of RELATIONSHIPS and reiterates that our students are people, not numbers! I highly HIGHLY recommend this to anyone who works in higher education or parents of future college students. It is a privileged viewpoint because the students that the book follows are at an elite private institution; nevertheless, their points ring true for every college student and every institution. ...more
Mar 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, academia
I question some of their methods (i.e., what questions were asked in the interviews? why edit the transcripts? why discount demographic variables from the analysis and not probe deeper there? did you talk to a linguist?) but overall it has some interesting insights/takeaways. I disagree completely with their idea that teachers can't improve/change so we shouldn't bother to try, but I see why they reduce their recommendations to the basics in the end. ...more
Nov 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Conclusion: people, not programs.
Rachel Little
Sep 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: higher-ed
A good intro to higher education for me. Love the emphasis on the importance of people.
Cathy Cole
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As an enrollment services professional, I am always looking for ways to bring the academy to life for the students and families we recruit. This book provides the results of an in-depth research study at a small liberal arts college in New York. The results of the study are simple — students want to be engaged with their faculty and staff.
Apr 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a thought-provoking book and I liked it very much. It attempts to determine what we (faculty, administrators, students) can do to make the college experience better for students. This book, as opposed to most books on learning that I read, did not focus on pedagogy but rather on the entire experience. Chambliss argues, based on student and alumni surveys, that learning takes place not only in the classroom; in fact, the most important outcomes of college is based on face-to-face interact ...more
Julie Ramsey
Aug 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Every summer, I try to read at least one book that's recently come out regarding my chosen profession of higher education. Often, they are scathing criticisms of what is wrong with higher ed. This one, refreshingly, does not fall into that category. Based on research done at Hamilton College, a place very similar to Gettysburg College, the authors conclude something that most student affairs people have known all along-- students need friends to thrive; the social part of college is essential to ...more
Amanda Himes
Aug 18, 2016 rated it liked it
"The fundamental problem in American higher education is no longer the availability of content, but rather the availability of motivation." Chambliss and Takacs make the case, based on a decade of research at Hamilton College, that what students need to succeed in college is 2-3 good friends and 1-2 great professors, and that without both these sufficient and necessary elements, they will leave unsatisfied and perhaps un-degreed. When students feel that their work matters to someone important, t ...more
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
I'm reading this for a book club, but so far I find it pretty long-winded. There is a lot of information that seems pretty obvious without too much rigorous analysis (discourse or coding or otherwise, yet).

My boyfriend explained it best:

Me: I don't like this book.
Boyfriend: What's it about?
Me: [reads the back jacket cover of the book] "human interactions remain central to most students' college experience[s]."
Boyfriend: Yeah, partying. You could just look at their Facebook pages.


James Lang
Jan 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fascinating account of a long-term study of a cohort of college students throughout their college years and up to ten years beyond. The results suggest that courses and formal learning experiences are much less important and memorable than individual relationships that students form--with each other, with faculty, and with other members of the college community. The implications of this are surprising and interesting, and deserve to be considered by everyone who works or lives in a college commu ...more
Feb 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent read for any higher ed professional, especially those who have a lot of contact with first and second year students. It's particularly useful for those of us who work at small private colleges, as the authors are both affiliated with a similar institution (Hamilton College), which is the basis for their research and conclusions. ...more
Ann Nicgorski
Dec 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Some good insights (e.g. assessment) but no real surprises for liberal arts college faculty. Very repetitive; surprised that the role of social media was not considered as a significant part of student experience.
Nina Chachu
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Official read for the Ashesi retreat in May 2016. An easy read, all about a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. With lessons for all of us.
Mills College Library
378 C4459 2014
Mar 12, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: books
A complete waste of time.
Jan 28, 2015 rated it liked it
"It's all socio-emotional, stupid" is not a hard sell with this reader. ...more
Dec 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Interesting to read from the perspective of my alma mater written by a f0rmer professor. Gave me things to think about for some of the projects we are working on.
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent and clear view of college through the student's eyes. All college administrators should read this book.

(Coincidentally my first Kindle book completed - way late to the dance).
rated it really liked it
Jun 30, 2014
rated it it was ok
Jul 08, 2016
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