Colleges all across the country, including Fulton-Montgomery Community College, are examining ways in which they can improve their delivery of education and increase their graduation rates. We know that there is no single factor that will suddenly move graduation rates to 80 percent for every student that enters our doors -- if there was, we would be doing it already.
There are a myriad of factors that influence whether a student is successful in college. We all need to explore new methods of delivery. We all need to increase the support services that help students succeed (i.e. mentors, tutors, advisors), all of which increases our costs -- something that elected officials don't like to hear. And, we must address one clear factor -- many students are just not prepared for college.
In this article, I am not going to address whether or not students are academically prepared to handle the math, English, reading, etc., requirements for college. Rather, I will focus on how prepared they are to participate successfully.
My leadership team and I meet with groups of students for lunch once a month. We discuss with them their experience at FM; their expectations vs. reality; why they chose FM; what we could do better; and other topics. During these discussions, and with our observations, it became clear to us that many students don't understand college.
Many students are not prepared for the pace of college work; it moves much faster than high school. Some students don't understand the entire admissions, registration, payment, and financial aid process of attending college. Some don't understand the work required in classes in order to succeed in college. For example, some students think if you just attend college for two years you receive an Associate's degree. They have been pushed through an education system that required little of them, and they don't understand that without demonstrating academic success, they will not graduate.
Why don't students know these things? For many students in college today, they are "first generation college students." That is, no one in their families attended college, therefore, they are not getting advice at home on how to be successful. Their parents do not understand higher education any more than the students. High schools have so much pressure placed upon them to "not leave any child behind" that they often don't have the time they used to have to prepare students for college-level work which leaves it up to us -- higher education -- to prepare students for college.
We need to share the methods of success with students upon admission and regularly thereafter. We know that things like going to class, getting to know the campus, using the resources, studying in smaller intervals (and not in your bedroom), making connections with faculty and staff, getting involved in activities, etc., all help students do well at college.
We need to repeat this time and time again. We also need to communicate these success strategies with parents more than once. While we cannot share student progress with parents (without student permission), we can prompt them on the questions to ask.
All colleges are focused on retention and completion. As we explore new ways of getting students through college, let's not forget the basics.