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Transforming Students

, 128 pages
February 2014



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Transforming Students

Fulfilling the Promise of Higher Education

The recent trend of trying to measure higher education’s return on investment misses a fundamental point, argue Charity Johansson and Peter Felten. The central purpose of a college or university is to transform the lives of students—not to merely change them or help them mature. This transformation is an ongoing process of intentionally aligning one’s behavior with one’s core sense of personal identity. It is the university’s central role to lead students in this transformation, a process that shapes students into intentional, critical, and engaged individuals.

Recognizing the remarkable influence of the college experience on peoples’ lives, the authors offer a guide to how colleges and universities can effectively lead students through this life-changing process. Drawn from extensive interviews with students and graduates, faculty and staff, Transforming Students gathers diverse stories to show how students experience the transformation process, which rarely follows a neat or linear path. The interviews illustrate central themes from the literature on transformative learning and the undergraduate student experience.

A sequel of sorts to George Keller’s classic Transforming a College—which chronicled Elon University’s metamorphosis from struggling college to a top regional university—Transforming Students addresses the school’s core educational mission: to shape students into engaged adults who embrace learning as a lifelong endeavor. Given this effect, the college experience is much more than preparation for a career. It is preparation for life.

Charity Johansson is a professor of physical therapy at Elon University. Peter Felten is director of the Center for Engaged Learning and a professor of history at Elon University.

"We highly recommend Transforming Students. The importance of creating transformational learning experiences in today's university setting that connect with messy real world problems and hopeful opportunities is paramount to achieve the promises of a higher education."

"This book is particularly relevant as the idea of a university and the fundamental purpose of higher education continue to be challenged and redefined... While Johansson and Felten acknowledge that this work emphasizes the enrichment and engagement that residential colleges can provide, their focus on the traditional college experience is not a limitation of the book. If anything, the testaments of transformation in individuals' stories at Elon and other examples of successful collegiate interventions across the nation offer support for the power of engagement that the traditional university can still deliver, especially in a rapidly emerging era of for-profit institutions and online learning."

"Johansson and Felten have done something all too rare in the present era. They carefully listened to scores of students, teachers, and parents and faithfully reported what makes for a meaningful, developmentally powerful undergraduate experience. Institutional leaders, faculty, and staff would do well to heed the uncommon wisdom in these pages to intentionally create the conditions that result in the high levels of student accomplishment we all desire."

"Clear, well-grounded, inspiring and practical, this book will bestir your imagination, remind you why you became a professor (or administrator, trustee, donor), and deepen your sense of what is at stake in whether and how we understand the purposes, process, and transformative potential of the college years."

"While acknowledging the highly personal and individualized nature of transformation, Johansson and Felten provide guidelines for practices colleges and universities can adopt to foster transformational learning for all students. Transforming Students is a 'must read' for educators who take seriously higher education's responsibility to help students build an identity rooted in their own sense of purpose and meaning in the world."

"Transforming Students comes to us at a moment when many of us are envisioning transformative experiences for our students. The book goes to the heart of our enterprise and captures stories that encourage us to listen with an open mind and heart. This volume provides a valuable source of insight and a valuable source of hope for transformative work of our universities at a time when we need it most. This book is heartfelt and moving."

"If only my Dean and senior tenured colleagues, who would ultimately vote on my own tenure and professorship, could have given me Charity Johansson's and Peter Felten's edifying and illuminating work much much earlier in my career! I could and would have understood much earlier and more clearly why colleges should more intentionally pursue the goal of student transformation over and above the obsessive goal of preparation for employment; what are the specific stages, steps and influencing factors that enable student transformation; and what are the institutional practices and policies that facilitate intentional student transformation. This seminal new work shows the way. In our current period of unprecedented questioning of the value of higher education, this work makes a case for the transformative value of what our colleges can and must provide, if only we have the will."

"Transforming Students is an insightful and inspiring story of possibility."

"This concise text encourages educators, provides simple entry points into pedagogical theories, distills current student development research into poignant sound bites, and offers conceptual measures for engaging the transformative learning process with one's own students, both inside and outside the classroom."

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