Lots of colleges, including the one where I used to work, have summer reading programs, in which incoming first-year students are "required" to read a book that they will discuss during their orientation week. In the article, Charlotte Allen takes the programs apart based on the heavily ideological tilt and light intellectual weight of a lot of the books themselves. She notes that at Cornell, though, incoming students have been asked to deal with Franz Kafka, Sophocles and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cornell students might actually read something that could stick with them.
"Required" is in scare quotes because the discussion has no grade and no participation requirement. Show up, sit there, keep your mouth shut, leave. Notice how "buy the book" and "read the book" are not on the mandatory list, nor could they be. After all, what would the college do if a student didn't do the work? Expel or otherwise punish them for not doing an assignment that was part of no class and carried no grade? The idea causes a little line of drool at a lawyer's mouth, because colleges have lots of money and any punitive act on their part would get shot down in flames of emotional distress damages.
I can't for the life of me see what sort of introduction this is supposed to be to the life of the mind and the intellectual community. In fact, it would seem to me that students get a nice, well-rounded lesson that their collegiate classes have a lot of work that means little enough as to be kissing cousins with "optional." It's a lesson which doesn't serve students well if they wind up with some of those crazy profs who grade things.
Some colleges buy the book, in addition to having the writer on campus for a presentation. The college I used to work at started the program making the students buy their own copies, at a discount. Since I don't work there anymore, I don't know if they've started hiding the cost in tuition bills and telling the students they're getting the book free. Either way, the only certain enrichment is that of the author. Pay attention to enough details like that and you work somewhere else after awhile.
The first year they had the program at our place, the book was James McBride's The Color of Water, a memoir of his life and of his mother, who raised 12 children in poverty-stricken Red Hook, Brooklyn. McBride's father was black; his mother Ruth was white and raised Jewish. In it I learned that if you call yourself poor, the fact that your family owns two houses will be overlooked and that a parenting style which includes beating children who forget to take papers home from school is an admirable tactic that is given credit for getting all of them into college.
I left the next year, but not before reading the second selection, Mark Salzman's Lost in Place. It's a book that answers a question no one was really asking, to wit: "So, what would John Knowles' A Separate Peace be like in the hands of a less-talented writer who wanted to channel it through That 70s Show?"
If you're wondering why a church-related college seemed to have trouble finding church-related books, well, that's one of those details.