As Wellesley welcomes its students back to campus, a new book by faculty authors about liberal arts colleges and how students can make the most of their time at these schools is getting national attention. The Chronicle of Higher Education praised Practice for Life: Making Decisions in College, by Lee Cuba, professor of sociology, and Joseph Swingle, senior lecturer in sociology, and two colleagues from Bowdoin College, for its message about the value of a liberal education. The Chronicle’s James M. Lang called the book “a compelling read that offers a fresh perspective on what lies at the heart of a liberal-arts education, especially on residential campuses.”
Practice for Life builds on data from a five-year study that followed more than 200 students at seven colleges. It recasts college as a place where students can learn to approach the decisions they make as opportunities rather than obstacles—as moments to take risks and learn about themselves. The book makes the argument that a liberal arts education is the most practical education a person can receive.
Cuba and Swingle are quick to note that many Wellesley students were involved in various research stages for the book. They served as interviewers, helped draft interview questions, analyzed data, and joined the authors for presentations at professional meetings. Cuba noted that a few students used data collected for the book in their senior theses. “The Wellesley students who participated in our study were exceptionally committed and supportive,” added Swingle. “They were enthusiastic about contributing to a research study focused on the college student experience. Like us, many hoped that the research would help colleges in their continuing efforts to improve.”
Cuba said what he enjoyed most about creating the book was “the honesty, intelligence, and commitment that faculty, administrators, and students brought to our collective work. In spite of job changes, sabbaticals, and graduations, my colleagues at Wellesley and six other colleges managed to sustain a complex, multifaceted research project for 10 years. That’s no small feat.” Swingle agreed, adding that “it was intellectually exciting to work on a project that followed students as they moved through the four years of college. Our longitudinal study using in-depth interviews is rather unusual—collecting and analyzing interview data requires many, many hours—and was a significant departure from the survey-based research that I typically do.”
Read more about the advice the authors have for students here.