Book by Diane Nutt & Denis Calderon
Review by Michiko Bigus
Mānoa Advising Center
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

First-year college students face unique challenges and over the decades great efforts have been made to retain them and aid in their success. In this monograph, editors Nutt and Calderon share many innovative ideas that were designed to facilitate the transition and the success of first-year students in higher education around the globe. The monograph aims to provide readers with evidence-based practices that are considered to be transferable to a variety of institutional settings.  

The studies were conducted at sixteen institutions of higher education in ten countries. Each initiative is unique because it was developed in response to an institution’s specific profile and needs. Nutt and Calderon identify six key areas that were proven effective and could become the basis of future programs. They are (p.133-134): (1) early assistance at pre-entry stages; (2) induction (i.e., orientation) design and activities focusing on transition issues; (3) peer-based support and its impact on students’ social connections; (4) availability of on-going support throughout the first year; (5) skill development activities preparing students for college-level studies; (6) campus-wide holistic approaches based on collaboration and integration. 

Nutt and Calderon take careful steps to help readers understand the background, issues and key concepts commonly used in the discussion of first-year students, which makes this monograph easy-to-follow and suitable for a broad audience regardless of their familiarity with this first-year student group. For example, one chapter provides an overview of the higher education systems of the ten countries examined and discusses key factors (e.g., average student ages, ethnic composition, length of degree programs) that could impact the findings. Each initiative also starts with a description of the institution and student demographics. A glossary at the end of the book aids readers with important and often misleading terms. 

Another noteworthy highlight of this monograph is that each initiative was developed based on a specific research design and was subject to assessment to determine its effectiveness. Although each study varied in assessment methods and effectiveness criteria (e.g., retention, academic performance, student perception), all programs produced positive outcomes. Contributors of each initiative also discussed lessons learned and future directions, providing ideas and suggestions were a study conducted within a different educational setting. 

From an advising point of view, this monograph reveals a variety of ways advisors can be involved and play a role in enhancing first-year experience. For example, take any of the above-mentioned six areas that the editors identify as effective. Based on the interests, levels of experience, and resource availability, an advisor or a group of advisors could think of a pilot program that might be tested in their specific educational context. In this sense, both less-experienced and veteran advisors will benefit from the general ideas portrayed in this book. However, it should be warned that study descriptions are brief and cannot provide a complete and detailed picture of each program. In addition, the resource-intensive nature of those programs could be a budgetary challenge where interested advisors apply these ideas to an institution with a high student-to-advisor ratio. 

Overall, this monograph is an important reminder that the success of first-year students is not specific in a regional sense but has universal qualities and concerns that should involve stakeholders of higher education from around the world. It is an example of a collaborative effort sought by an international community to promote a sharing of ideas and research-based approaches to a common concern and goal.

International perspectives on the first-year experience in higher education (The first-year experience monograph series no. 52). (2009). Book by Diane Nutt & Denis Calderon, eds. Review by Michiko Bigus. Columbia, SC: National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition, 140 pp. $40.00. ISBN # 978-1-889-27166-8
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