Friday, March 20, 2009

Bearing Bad News / Counselors Must Make Low College Graduation Rates Transparent

Why do so many students matriculate in colleges with such poor graduation rates? A key factor is that many students are unaware of college graduation rate information and how their college choices affect their chances of degree completion. A new paper by Northwestern researchers James Rosenbaum and Jennifer Stephan applies the term “poor completion transparency” to the obfuscating maze between high school and college and then employment. According to Rosenbaum and Stephan, the many confusing degree options in our varied higher education model combine with weak college counseling to create poor completion transparency.

To address the transparency problem, Rosenbaum and Stephan call for better counseling to inform students about the labor market prospects associated with each college option. In this vision, college counseling needs to provide students with blunt, dream-killing facts about future prospects. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Friday Night Lights / “College” on TV

Friday Night Lights is the one show on TV that I make it a point to watch. (If I miss an episode, I catch it online.) Set in Dillon, TX, the high school football drama captures the coming of age of a cast of characters more authentic than anywhere else in tv-land.

The aspiration of college-going and the striving towards college is a consistent theme of the show. For Lyla, Landry, Smash, and Tyra, college is the way out of provincial football-obsessed Dillon.

In the most recent episode, Riggins, the star running back who has partied away his high school years, is offered an on-the-spot athletic scholarship to a Texas state college by a football scout. Paraphrasing, Riggins says to his girlfriend, “You know, there’s paperwork to complete, but it’s basically a done deal.” The double-standard in admissions for college athletes and the irresponsibility of college scouting is vivid.

The most tragic part of Riggins’s college acceptance is his lack of college readiness. If there was a “College Years” sequel to FNL, a story line would be Riggins’ complete lack of college preparation and its consequences, i.e., struggles with grades and problems with meeting academic eligibility standards for athletics.

Friday, March 6, 2009

College Knowledge Know Before You Go

A high school senior who I spoke with recently did not have a clue about how long term papers are in college courses; another was vague on the differences between a major in visual art and one in graphic design; and another was completing her FAFSA but unaware of financial aid basics, like loan repayment terms. These instances demonstrate a critical need to strengthen seniors’ college knowledge before they decide which college to attend and before they head off to campus in the fall. Of course, college knowledge education shouldn’t wait until the spring of senior year, but when the knowledge is not there, last chance remediation efforts are critical.

A few important things that students should know include that it is possible to appeal a financial aid decision, that free tutoring is available at most colleges, that registering for classes promptly is important to claim a seat, and that approaching professors immediately about problems is the best way to address those problems. A math professor and blogger adds a few items to this list, including healthy nutrition, time management skills, and academic integrity standards. For schools with advisory periods, advisory is the perfect time to talk through the benefits of college-going as well as the stresses of college life and overcoming them. Additional means to educate students include posted bulletin board information, booklets distributed with graduation event details, and a presentation on college success skills during the year’s final senior parent meeting.