The Hidden Curriculum: First Generation Students at Legacy Universities

Princeton Univ. Jan. 2021. 264p. ISBN 9780691190761. $27.95. ED
Attending an elite university presents difficulties for many, especially first-generation students, or those who are the first in their family to attend a four-year college. In addition to academic expectations, there are social norms, traditions, and values—known as the “hidden curriculum”—to navigate. From 2012 to 2016, Gable (director, institutional effectiveness, Virginia Commonwealth Univ.) followed 91 first-generation students and 35 continuing students (defined as those who have at least one parent with a bachelor’s degree) at Harvard and Georgetown to learn firsthand what first-generation students want and what institutional supports they need to succeed academically and personally. Using extensive qualitative research and interviews, the book offers concrete advice for college administrators on improving the transition to college, augmenting academic experiences, and strengthening social experiences. Some of the suggestions can be incorporated efficiently into existing programs (for instance, improving signage to make campuses easier to navigate for newcomers and guests), while others may be more costly or require more strategic consideration, such as hiring more university staff from underrepresented populations. Harvard and Georgetown took Gable’s study seriously and adopted some of the measures that her book proposes. The book focuses on these two elite Eastern colleges, but its suggestions are broad enough to apply to all universities.
VERDICT Gable’s suggestions are well written and thoughtfully conveyed; university administrators and others interested in higher education will find much to consider.
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