Recently, the president of Samford University, Dr. Andrew Westmoreland, offered the following succinct summary of a book entitled How College Works, by Dan Champion and Christopher Takacs: According to their research, “A great college experience is built on relationships with two or three friends and meaningful encounters with one or two faculty members. Everything else, according to Champion, pales by comparison.” Here are the book’s major recommendations for improving the learning environments at colleges, as summarized by Dr. Westmoreland:
1. Deploy the best teachers for maximum impact. He says that it is okay–even preferable–for good teachers to teach large classes because it improves the chance that all students will encounter good teachers, hopefully in their first semester. It is a mistake to offer small sections of first- and second-year courses, taught by bad teachers. The bad teachers should teach upper level courses where they will do less damage.
2. Use space to help people meet. In an interesting observation, Champion says that long halls in residence halls with shared bathrooms offer the greatest chance that new students will develop friends. Apartment-style housing is not friendly toward friend development. Spaces on campus should prompt “hanging out.”
3. Use strategic scheduling to improve the odds for learning. The best teachers and courses should be placed in the best time slots. Champion calls for active management of scheduling by deans and department chairs.
4. Help motivated students find each other. His suggestions here apply primarily to extra-curricular organizations, but he also offers the observation that an invitation to dinner at a faculty home is perhaps the greatest single factor in promoting long-lasting student satisfaction.
5. Focus especially on students’ early careers. He offers nothing surprising on this subject to long-time observers of new student orientation, but he affirms a strong effort to achieve a positive welcome to the campus for all students. Also, learn their preferred names and call them by their names.
6. Use the arithmetic of engagement. The arithmetic needs to be focused on connecting those few, key relationships.
I would like to add a personal comment with regard to number 4 above. This past spring, my staff implemented a Home Group program at Samford University. The idea is that groups of 10-12 students meet weekly in the home of a faculty or staff member to share a meal, Bible study, prayers, spiritual conversation, etc. The kickoff was tremendous with remarkable student participation and faculty support. This fall we anticipate nearly 30 groups hosted by Samford employees. We got the idea from a campus ministry at Pepperdine University, and would love for others to steal it too and report back about how it works.
Do you remember visiting the home of a faculty member during your university years? How did the experience shape your college experience?