Book by Barbara F. Tobolowsky, Bradley E. Cox, and Mary T. Wagner (Eds.)
Review by Vanetta B. Bratcher
Academic Enrichment Coordinator and
TRiO Scholars Program Associate Coordinator
The Aldersgate Center
Indiana Wesleyan University

High school graduation launches most 18-year olds into an exciting journey toward college and career. This journey starts for thousands of incoming college freshmen with some version of a first-year seminar program. Designed to increase student success, these first-year programs have become higher education's most popular movement to enhance student achievement.  This text, the third volume of research published by the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, captures identifying factors in this movement’s dramatic growth over the past twenty years.

As different as the first-year students they serve, each campus program offers characteristics that can help readers glean ways to facilitate freshman success at their colleges.  Editors Tobolowsky, Cox, and Wagner highlight diversity and similarity among the first-year programs at thirty-nine selected public and private two and four-year institutions in North America.  Each school’s report provides a brief institutional profile, a narrative that details the seminar structure used on that campus, characteristics of the school’s research plan, and findings regarding its first-year program.

Most useful for readers are indexes that group institutions by type, affiliation, and seminar format.  Characteristics such as seminars functioning in learning communities or identification of specific learning outcomes are also easily reviewed.  The most common learning outcomes will come as no surprise to those involved in first-year student success: “Retention/Persistence” and “Student Self-Assessment,” followed closely by “Academic Achievement/Grade Point Averages” and “Student Satisfaction” (p.188-9).

Over one-third of the institutions classified their seminars as “hybrids,” meaning they blend multiple purposes into their seminars, such as providing “Extended Orientation” along with “Basic Study Skills” or “Academic [focus] with Uniform Content” (p.188).   Reviewing details of these seminars confirms that each program mixes, to varying degrees, multiple seminar objectives, even while holding primary outcomes central to their seminar curriculum.

Volume III does not provide readers with a large body of statistical research that can be used to prove a perfect seminar curriculum for all institutions. However, Volume III presents a window to view how schools have crafted their seminars and a template readers can use to compare each program to their own. Thus readers can “comparative shop” without visiting thirty-nine campuses and can benefit from innovations and insights program leaders have gained in serving their students.

Exploring the Evidence: Reporting research on First-Year Seminars  Volume III. (2005). Book by Barbara F. Tobolowsky, Bradley E. Cox, and Mary T. Wagner, (Eds). Review by Vanetta B. Bratcher. Columbia, SC: National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition.  $35.00 (paperback) 197 pp., ISBN # 1-889271-50-0
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