Strength of self

A New York Times blog editorial this year reported on the relatively low number of college students who end up graduating; the article asserts “the United States is doing a terrible job of helping enrolled college students complete their educations.” (1)

Well, I’m not sure exactly who “the United States” refers to and what is meant by “helping,” but when it comes to increasing student success, graduation rates, and most importantly, learning, I rather agree with another recent editorial from Community College Week (2): “Time to Hold Students Accountable For Their Own Success.”

Hank Dunn, president of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in Asheville, North Carolina, tells the tale of his campus’s “best practices” undertaken “to help ensure student success and completion.” His article lists an impressive array of student outreach and support efforts: a clear demonstration opposing the notion of a “terrible job of helping students” (and I might add these types of efforts have been repeated in community colleges all over the country).

Or, at least, these efforts reflect a valiant goal to help students as much as is possible.  Here’s the kicker, and perhaps a dirty little secret for those who don’t work with students every day: students have to do their part. To succeed, students must be responsible, own their decisions, and choose to come to class and study. No amount of money invested in higher ed or complaining about higher ed will change this basic fact.

So I was pleased to read President Dunn’s campus has embraced, on a broad level, the excellent self-help book for students titled On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life by Skip Downing. The book explains that one must approach life from a creator and not a victim mentality; and Dunn claims it’s working for them:

“We now move very quickly to a student’s personal responsibility for their actions and find that as we do this as an entire campus (from security guards to advisors to instructors to general staff) that students’ behaviors are changing. They are accepting more responsibility and they are now more quickly looking for ways to intrinsically accomplish their educational goals.”

Wonderful news!

Those headed to college would do well to understand that their behavior, indeed, will make the difference (and that attitude flows from beliefs and mindset). The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has established that American students, for surely a multitude of reasons, aren’t performing well in school and don’t know what they should know coming out of high school. That deficient knowledge base (in many cases) certainly includes study skills and general life attitudes conducive to success.

So of course, we have students coming to college utterly unprepared, and some folks wring their hands about how these students don’t graduate from those colleges. How can “the United States” increase student success?  By encouraging students to empower themselves and thereby, as much as is possible, own their own destiny.

Articles discussed above:

(1) “Only Half of First-time College Students Graduate in 6 Years,” NYTimes.com, Economix blog, 2/26/13, Catherine Rampell.
(2) “Time to Hold Students Accountable For Their Own Success,” Community College Week Point of View, 3/18/13, Hank Dunn.

Image via mrg.bz / jeltovski