Monday, April 14, 2014

Coincidence? I don't think so.

Have we covered the fact that college is expensive and student loan debt loads are outrageous enough yet? 

It is understandably frustrating when a student graduates from a 4-year university only to find a job that barely pays enough to cover the subsequent student loan payments. But there are a few assumptions in this situation that merit some further questioning. 

Before we go into those questions, though, let me point out some things that glare at me in the Learning Center all day long: 

  1. The number of high school students who graduate but are not prepared for college. 
  2. The number of students who fit into a category that research designates as predicted to fail. 
  3. The number of students who do not complete college. 
  4. The number of students with outrageous student loan debts. 
Our beginning situation is premised on a couple of circumstances that ignore many of the students I work with, and this is terrifying considering the data available on numbers 1-4. 

The first premise is that when a student graduates from high school, we may assume that he/she is proficient to a certain level in the fundamentals. This is often the case for what's been learned (math, English, science) and how to learn (time management, organization, note taking). But too often we see high school students graduate without these things, for any number of reasons. Usually, these students are placed into developmental education classes, which may or may not be effective for all students, and are then subjected to all the issues with financial aid, timing, content, and stigma that follow this requirement. The Common Core State Standards have been created, in part, to make this assumption possible, but how realistic is this? What can we do for those students who weren't educated under these standards? What can we do for those students whose high school transcripts consist mainly of courses the standards leave behind?

The second is that we still speak about "college" to high schoolers as a 4-year university. Community and technical colleges and sub-baccalaureate programs are still seen as a second-choice option. This is despite the data available suggesting that even a semester of college courses is associate with higher pay and increased employment opportunities, and the increased attention on community colleges to fulfill the "college for all" attitude recently awoken. This may also speak to the level of attention given to college guidance counseling in high school; my own husband attended - and graduated - from a 4-year program, only to find his place in a field completely unrelated to that program and thinking how a 2-year technical program might have better suited him. How many of those student loan dollars went towards a program that a student only chose because that was what was expected, or he/she didn't have a choice, or that a student may never be able to use? 

The last is that we still have our heads in the sand about what it takes for a student to graduate, especially from a 2-year program. Research has found a number of characteristics that predict a student's failure, many of which also characterize technical students (older than 24, married, first-generation, receiving financial aid, working full-time). It may even be said that these circumstances make a sub-baccalaureate more attractive, but consequently make the educational progression itself more complicated.  So how is it that we don't address those non-cognitives proactively? Are we afraid of what we'd need to tell a student? 

We often concentrate on the 4-year graduates with barely enough income to make their loan payments, which is a valid concern. But what can we do for the students for whom we need to switch out some of those pieces? 

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