Book Reviews: Follow the Money

If the connections among these books do not seem obvious, that is understandable. They cover a wide range of topics that are unrelated in many ways, but at the root of each is the problem of money — the pursuit of, the lack of, or the influence of.

Breaking Through the Access Barrier: How Academic Capital Formation Can Improve Policy in Higher Education, by Edward P. St. John, Shouping Hu and Amy S. Fisher, $44.95 (paperback), Routledge, October 2010, ISBN-10: 9780415800334, ISBN-13: 978-0415800334, pp. 296.

For low-income students who represent the first generation of their family to attend college, the road to higher education presents many obstacles, and money is only one of them. This book, intended as a text for courses in higher education policy, argues that current strategies for broadening access to college miss the mark. To find out what works, the authors analyzed three well-regarded programs: the Washington State Achievers program, the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, (both funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) and Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars Program. Introducing the concept of “academic capital” — the knowledge within a student’s family of options, processes and preparation necessary to get to college — the researchers conclude that policies and programs that provide such capital offer the best chance of giving more socially and economically disadvantaged students’ real opportunities to attend and succeed in college.

Job Search In Academe: How to Get the Position You Deserve, by Dawn M. Formo and Cheryl Reed, $49.95, Stylus Publishing, January 2011, ISBN-10: 1579221335, ISBN-13: 978-1579221331, pp. 288.

As an updated edition of a 1999 title, this book takes an account of the vast changes along the path to employment over the past dozen years. It is a handbook for those who have master’s or doctoral degrees in hand and are in need of a first job or of a new one, either within academe or outside its walls. The book carries the prospective employee from writing the CV to negotiating the contract and on to doing the hiring. This edition adds advice for minority candidates and job seekers in the sciences.

Pay for Play: A History of Big-Time College Athletic Reform, by Ronald A Smith, $80, University of Illinois Press, December 2010, ISBN-10: 0252035879, ISBN-13: 978-0252035876, pp. 360.

In this provocative book, the author, who has chronicled the mostly dismal record of athletic reform in college sports for decades, details the efforts to purify intercollegiate sports since the first teams faced off in the 1850s. He makes a solid case for why reforms are needed — to counter the influence of money in collegiate sport, to ensure that college athletes are and remain college material and to otherwise eliminate the corruption and distortions sports bring to college campuses. He also calls for college governing boards, presidents, faculty and students to share responsibility for change.

Understanding the Working College Student: New Research and Its Implications for Policy and Practice, by Laura W. Perna and Glenn DuBois $32.50 (paperback), Stylus Publishing, March 2010, ISBN-10: 157922427X, ISBN-13: 978-1579224271, pp. 328.

While it may seem obvious that many college students work because they need to, research on the implications of that for them and the institutions they attend was skimpy and scattered, the authors found. Their book pulls together research and data from a variety of sources to provide a more comprehensive picture of the working student. In contrast to the image of the “traditional” full-time student who does not work or works a few hours at most, the authors note that the working student is the norm today.

Almost half of all full-time undergraduates and 81 percent of part-time undergraduates worked, according to a 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Education. Better understanding of such students could lead to changes in policies and practices and help increase the number of Americans who earn college degrees, the authors argue. Their book looks at how work affects students’ grades, their identities, eligibility for student aid, engagement in the college experience, participation in extracurricular activities, likelihood of graduating and even their future salaries. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that work takes its toll, but they conclude that it may offer benefits as well. For example, students who work a limited number of hours may have higher grades, and those who work during college may reap higher incomes later.

Angela P. Dodson is a longtime contributor to Diverse.