Information for the parents of college students
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Book Review: Generation on a Tightrope

From time to time, we like to review some of the books available for parents of college students.  There is a wealth of literature available to help parents cope with the transition to college and the changes that occur throughout the college years.  We’ve created lists of recommended reading, and there is something for everyone.  See our Resources and Tools page for suggestions.

Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student by Arthur Levine and Diane R. Dean is not written specifically for college parents, however, if you want to read a book that will force you to look at your college-aged student differently; this is one of those books.  The book is based on research conducted with 5,000 college students as well as student affairs staff members from 270 college campuses.  It explores the similarities and differences between today’s generation and previous generations.  The book begins by offering the opportunity for current parents to hold the mirror up to examine their own generation.

Generation on a Tightrope provides an eye-opening portrait not only of this generation of college students, but also of college parents.  Chapters cover a view of the world in which current college students grew up, the academic attitudes of students, social life, parental involvement in these students’ lives, changing multicultural climate, politics, and the future.

Parents may find the chapter on parental involvement uncomfortable, and for some, surprising. When student affairs professionals were asked what the most significant changes were on their campuses since 2001, the overwhelming response was more parental involvement. Unfortunately, that involvement is not always a positive thing.  The book continues to describe some of the reasons for this increased involvement as well as some stories illustrating how that involvement looks.  One of the key benefits of reading this book may be not only to view ourselves as college parents, but to put our increased involvement in the context of the needs and characteristics of this generation.

College educators, parents, government officials, employers and all who work with, raise and educate our children will benefit from reading this book.  We recommend it for your college parent bookshelf.

About the authors:

Arthur Levine is president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.  He was previously president and professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University.  Dr. Levine has also served on the faculty of Harvard Graduate School of Education, as president of Bradford College, and as senior fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education.  He has written numerous articles and authored, coauthored, or edited eleven books.  He received his bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University, his PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and twenty four honorary degrees.

Diane R. Dean is associate professor of higher education policy and administration at Illinois State University.  Dr. Dean’s research and publications focus on leadership, governance and organizational issues in colleges and universities; higher education policy, work experiences and cultures of college and university faculty, and the sociocultural and classroom experiences of undergraduate students.  Dean is coeditor of the Women in Academe series and coeditor of Public Policy and Higher Education.  She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, and her master’s and doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University.

What the authors have to say about the book:

“This is a portrait of a generation on a tightrope.  Today’s college students are struggling to maintain their balance as they attempt to cross the gulf between their dreams and the diminished realities of the world in which they live. . . This is a story about how we help today’s undergraduates cross the abyss that threatens to dissolve and swallow them, and how we can work with them to ensure that they will help us all to create the diverse, global, digital information economy of the twenty-first century.

This book seeks to portray a generation of college students who were born, grew up, and will live their lives in a nation undergoing a transformation from an analog, national, industrial society to a global, digital, information economy.  The portrait is a composite, a picture of a generation, not of the individuals who make up that generation.  The portrait is multifaceted, a report on a generation’s attitudes, values, and experiences replete with the contradictions and inconsistencies that are part of the lives of all human beings.  The portrait is complex, looking backward and forward across a span of more than two centuries with multiple historic anchor points and a number of different comparison groups.”

“The book seeks to paint a multifaceted portrait of the most diverse generation of college students ever to arrive on campus by including their hopes and aspirations, beliefs and values, academic experience, life beyond the classroom, politics, relationships, use of technology, and historic context.”

“We know that our own future depends on how well today’s college students are prepared to meet the challenges ahead – living as engaged citizens in an evolving information economy, a diverse global society, and a digital age in a time of profound and relentless change.  Therefore, this portrait of a generation also suggests specific ways we can better shape and collaborate with the next generation, who will then change the future.”

What others have to say about the book:

“Arthur Levine and Diane R. Dean take the long view of today’s generation of college students. This is a brilliant examination of what has shaped our young people, what they are doing with the tools they have, and where they are headed. It is a diagnosis of what ails them, a celebration of their strengths, and a compelling and generous prescription for their future—and ours.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University 

“I can’t say enough about how important this work is. This book is right on the mark for what needs to be known and understood about today’s college students by those who are responsible for educating the future leaders and citizens of the world.”

Gwen Dungy

Executive Director, Emeritus,

NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education 

Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student is a must-read for college presidents, administrators, and professors as well as parents, employers, and government leaders—who all have a stake in student success. Understanding who today’s college students are is essential as we collaboratively develop and deliver the education that will prepare this generation to build our future.”

Nancy L. Zimpher

Chancellor, State University of New York

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