Proactively Planning for Success

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belief quoteA recent article released in Inside Track, examines the issue that many colleges are facing.  The article does not focus on the services needed but the stigma that may come along with using those services.  In particular those resources that focus on identifying “at-risk” students. It is no secret that schools are heavily investing  in services that promote student success and retention. Services such as tutoring, financial counseling, mentoring, and academic advising are just a few of the options on which schools are spending time and money.  While retention rates at some schools have improved slightly, there remains a substantial gap in connecting the amount of services offered and the services actually utilized by the students. Why is that?  Many schools are spending ample time researching the latest tools and services to improve retention and aid student success, so why do students continue to drop out?

Recently we sent our first son off to college.  He’s about 3.5 hours away from home at a small university.  When we visited this summer for parent/student orientation, we were very impressed with the wealth of resources for students and parents.  I remember one of the last things I told my son when we left was, “if you struggle academically, can’t find a social group to join, or find yourself overwhelmed and lost, it will be because you aren’t utilizing the many free resources available to you right on campus”.  He agreed.  They truly have thought of everything and have it covered as far as I’m concerned.  However, the key is not just having the services and educating students about them; rather students reaching out and using those services.  Once again the old adage “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” comes to mind.

Why don’t students take advantage of the multiplicity of services available to them?  There are many theories, one being a stigma associated with specific services.  For example, traditional students may be concerned about what others will think if they take advantage of the free tutoring.  Students who are homesick and feeling overwhelmed may be struggling to manage the mental stress and be too afraid to visit the campus counseling center.  Another theory may be time constraints.  Adult students may need help learning to balance school, work, and family concerns but not have the time to take advantage of those services such as counseling or orientations. While older generation students may struggle with new learning technologies and feel intimidated or embarrassed about getting help.

As I mentioned, we recently sent our first son to college.  The months leading up to him leaving, I had several “talks” with him about making good choices and how one bad choice can change the course of your life.  After looking back I probably spent more time discussing the negative impact of one bad choice than I did on the positive affects of making lots of good choices.  After reading the article – “Success Creation” versus “Failure Prevention”, I realized perhaps my “talks” were a bit one sided.  You see, focusing on not making a bad choice does not produce the making of a lot of good choices. Which leads me to my conclusion of this article.

Turns out schools are learning it is not the sheer number of resources available to students that improve success and retention.  On the contrary, it is the actual approach taken from those resources.  Are they on the offensive or defensive?  Is a student coached on how to succeed or how NOT to fail?  You get the idea.  One thing is for sure…the next time I talk to my son, I will focus on how making good choices can impact his future for the better and he can do anything he puts his mind to!

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