Peer Review

From the Editor

This summer I overheard a chat between my son and daughter that gave me pause. Adam, a high school junior, was standing next to Gillian, a college sophomore, as she looked at Facebook pages of college students from various schools. Facebook is a popular social networking Web site on which students create personalized Web profiles. “That kid goes to a party school,” Gillian told her brother as she stopped to look at one student’s page. “See? You can tell by the photos. Have you ever seen that many empties lined up?

Talk about ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall.”

“I wonder how long it took him to drink all of that beer.”

“I’m sure he didn’t drink them all by himself. With a bunch of friends, it probably only took him a couple of weekends,” she said matter-of-factly as she clicked onto another student’s Facebook page.

Party school reputations for many undergraduate institutions, deserved or not, are alive and thriving. The Princeton Review 2008 Best 366 Colleges rankings list party schools under headings such as “Lots of Beer,” “Reefer Madness,” and “Lots of Hard Liquor.” In the 2006 Student Monitor's Lifestyle and Media Study, a market research survey of undergraduates, 75 percent of the students polled reported that drinking beer was "in" on their campuses—this activity was surpassed in popularity only by students listening to their iPods.

In the Winter 2007 edition of Liberal Education, Donald W. Harward, director of the Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP) project reported that “Over the past decade or so, campuses nationwide have reported dramatic increases in binge drinking.” In response to this and other harmful forms of student disengagement, the Bringing Theory to Practice project, developed by the Charles Engelhard Foundation in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities, promotes engaged learning as an important strategy to reintegrate the multiple purposes of liberal education. BTtoP, now in its fourth year, has involved more than 200 institutions and funded more than 40 campuses to participate in a national effort to advance engaged student learning and determine how it might improve the quality of students’ education, development, health, and commitment to civic engagement.

The goals of BTtoP are

  • To explore the connection of forms of engaged learning to the health of students with the objective of increasing the full and healthy development of each learner, and the fostering of productive interrelationships among learning, individual realization, and the forming and sustaining of a civic society.
  • To increase the number of campuses that effectively address these issues; to provide resources to help them to do so; and to assist campuses to consider additional ways to prevent or intervene in responding to incidences of student mental-health related problems and abusive behaviors.
  • To encourage greater utilization of the fundamental academic strengths of institutions to address the intellectual, emotional, and civic development of students. To encourage cross-campus discussions and the valuing of the interdependency of student affairs and academic affairs.
  • To increase the involvement of faculty in changing the practices and culture of the academy to focus on teaching and learning methods that contribute to students’ success as well as their health and civic development.
  • To increase the involvement of students in bringing about these changes—on campuses and in the communities that they will form and affect.
  • To increase institutional attention and commitment to these effects including the creation of systems of support, reward, and maintenance that value them.

This issue of Peer Review, coedited by Barry Checkoway, features articles from three BTtoP campus demonstration sites. Each campus story tells how that institution uses engaged learning and participation in activities such as service learning to foster student well-being and civic responsibility. Checkoway notes in his Analysis piece in this issue that “the number of colleges and universities that share our cause is growing, and there is enough evidence to cause us to imagine that some combination of engaged learning, mental health, and civic development holds promise to establish this as a field of practice and subject of study.” While there is still much to be learned about the effects and affects of engaged learning on student behavior, the BTtoP project has shown that providing and supporting learning contexts that enable student transformation has shown great promise in developing the whole person—a fundamental goal of a liberal education.

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