Archive for February, 2013

College Access and Success

Posted on February 11, 2013. Filed under: Higher Education |

Higher education in the United States is in peril.  The economy is floundering with moderately high unemployment or underemployment, large federal and state budget cuts are unfolding, and yet, educational costs continue to rise.  More private-school oriented families are applying to state schools, and inadvertently, pushing out first generation, low income, and or ALANA students; some of whom may have been border line admits and would have received admission prior to this recession.  As conversations like affordability, access, retention, and literacy play a larger role in restructuring post-secondary education; we are reluctantly forced to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of our academic and student services on our campuses and communities.

To support these endeavors, colleges and universities must establish successful community partnerships with their local public schools and non-profit organizations, develop strong home and school relationships with program participants, and have structured academic support programs around core collegiate skills and experiences – critical thinking, problem solving, reading and writing comprehension skills.

In order to establish these partnerships, institutions must communicate with local principles, guidance counselors, and teachers on a regular basis to discuss areas for improvement.  Some of the support initiatives include problem solving, critical thinking, and academic workshops.  They must also assist with interventions to assess and solve immediate problems with access and success program participants.  Many of these access and retention initiatives include academic and financial support, college planning, and skill building workshops.  This can be done by utilizing a 4-tiered approach to successfully navigating the transition from high school to college – academic, personal, social, and financial.

Significant emphasis in sustaining high college access and retention rates is placed on finances.  Student loan debt has crippled students and their families for decades, totaling more than $1 trillion, a phenomenon highlighted by the recession.  As student loan debt increases and starting salaries decrease (considering for inflation), students and their families are faced with difficult decisions about their future livelihoods and careers.  As such, it is important to assist first generation, low income, and ALANA students in completing their FAFSA’s, research scholarships and grants, and understanding the impacts of loans (financial literacy).  Access and success programs must structure personal and social workshops by highlighting the importance of healthy lifestyles and relationships with peers, faculty, staff, and most importantly, themselves.  Academically, to focus on time management, critical thinking, and reading/writing comprehension, and most importantly, to use these approaches both in and outside the classroom.

Thus, as we transition from a country that once believed that college is for everyone and all MUST receive an education, perhaps now is the time to seriously consider the pedagogical models used in Germany, of which, the U.S. is beginning to understand and pursue via the community colleges.  Let’s be honest here, college isn’t for everyone.  Many incur significant debt, take a leave of absence to pay down this debt, and never return.  Some complete their studies (most now in 5 – 6 years), graduate, expect to find a job, and are met with a grim job market and economy.  There are many other reasons to support this notion.  As a  result, these students are unable to pay down their debt (educational loans), default on payments, and begin their young careers saturated in debt, horrible credit, and poor job prospects.

The question remains.  What is the purpose of providing educational services if the end result is debt? Approximately 25% of college graduates do not have debt.  I’d argue that they come from affluent families who can afford their education or were excellent students who received full academic scholarships.  Either way, both paths are rooted in strong home and school environments with numerous opportunities for personal and academic growth – opportunities often times not afforded to low income, first generation, and ALANA students.  Who is truly benefiting? The student/family? The financial institutions? Colleges/Universities? Given decades of record debt and disparity…you decide.

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