Review by: 

Anna Vest

University of South Florida

[email protected]

More students from minority and lower socioeconomic groups are joining college campuses across the United States but the rate at which they complete a college degree is a different story (Krogstad & Fry, 2014). Academic advisors must recognize the cultural and academic incongruity these students experience in campus environments consistent with the middle and upper class cultural norms that are embodied by most American colleges and universities (Rendón, 2006). Paul Tough’s Whatever it Takes (2008) is an account of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, a model that has been nationally recognized for its proven ability to prepare disadvantaged youth for academic success.

Canada’s approach to improving the lives of underserved children is a stark contrast to that of other comparable community outreach programs and charter schools. Instead of temporarily removing children from their poverty-stricken environments, Canada’s model focuses on educating members of the community through inter-related interventions strategically designed for parents, youth, and young adults. Practitioners will find that the goal of Canada’s model, to transform a detrimental community culture into one that is nurturing and supportive, is reflective of their own efforts to create an inclusive campus culture at their institutions.

A major strength of this book is the inclusion of extensive research findings indicating that while the cognitive and non-cognitive skills essential for academic achievement can be taught with early intervention, they are easily lost without ongoing internal and external support. As primary points of contact for students and affiliates of the greater campus community, academic advisors are in a position to tap into students’ internal support, family, and external support, institutional resources. Implications for practice of advising include the importance for academic advisors to consider adjusting their approach when working with underserved student populations, as opposed to those whose functioning and ways of thinking are likely already aligned with the cultural norms of the institution, so as to help students identify their various systems of support.

While this book is strongly recommended for all college practitioners, those involved with initiatives aimed at supporting underserved student populations will find it especially useful. Tough’s in-depth analysis of generational poverty in America, and its impact on the academic achievement gap between white middle class students and minority lower class students, will help practitioners develop a more thorough understanding of the unique needs of this student population. Reading this book will better equip practitioners to help higher education become more accessible and timely degree completion more possible.

Whatever it Takes. (2009). Paul Tough. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 336 pp. $14.95. ISBN #978-0-547-24796-0,  http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/Whatever-It-Takes/978054724796.


Krogstad, J. M., & Fry, R. (2014, April 24). More Hispanics, blacks enrolling in college, but lag in bachelor’s degrees. Retrieved July 29, 2016 from http://pewrsr.ch/1fu65u9

Rendón, L. I. (2006). National Post Secondary Education Cooperative. Reconceptualizing Success for Underserved Students in Higher Education. Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/npec/pdf/resp_Rendon.pdf

Posted in: 2016 Book Reviews
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