Saturday, February 15, 2014

Succeeding in College

Below is an odd piece for Building Bravehearts. It is a piece I have been toying with to help address college success of students in Arkansas, where I live. I am convinced that academic ability is important, but more is needed to actually succeed in college. Notice that all seven qualities are themes throughout Building Bravehearts and can be used anywhere at no cost: character, service, passion, wisdom, mindset, relationships, and values. 
Your feedback is welcome as I refine the ideas!  

  Deep College Prep

            Only two states and the District of Columbia have worse college graduation rates than Arkansas.  Only thirty-nine percent of Arkansas students who begin a four year public college graduate within six years.

            What do we do about it?  How do we see more young people spend less time, less money, learn more, and graduate often?

I grew up in rural Kentucky with a suspect academic background.  Neither of my parents finished high school, my father only going through eighth grade.  He worked in a factory.  I should not have been one of those who graduated from college.  But, there are some reasons that I made it, reasons that go deeper than our traditional approach to increasing levels of graduation rates.  Reasons that will work for our children.

            The Department of Education has rightly focused on strengthening the quality of learning through elementary, middle, and high school.  The University of Arkansas system and other colleges are working with high schools, admissions, and incoming students to build their academic abilities.  These are needed and good.

            However, while increased academic quality is essential, we can’t stop there.  More is needed to succeed.  A student who has ability and has learned good skills and knowledge is like a basketball player who has natural ability and has been coached well.  The player needs that ability and those skills to play at a higher level.  But, he needs a lot more to succeed. He needs things like increased commitment, harder work, teamwork, coachability, and other personal qualities. A student going to college also needs ability and skills. But, the student needs strong personal qualities to actually make it through college and graduate.

            Below are seven competencies that will help any student succeed in college.  These qualities go deeper than academic ability alone.  When a student has them, the student more often succeeds and can even overcome a weaker academic background. With a good academic background and these deep college preparations, our students will have successful college experiences.

            First, a student needs strong character.  Character will keep the student making good choices when away from home.  Poor choices about time, money, and people lead to failure quickly.  Courage to do right can be learned.  Parents help children develop strong character by being examples and by making sure their children have other adults and peers who value positive character.  As parents live out good character, they should talk about what is important and why with their children, even teens.

            Second, a student should focus on others.  Learning to serve others will help a student fit into a bigger world.  If a student thinks that everything is about him and then runs into the realty in college that life isn’t that way, he crashes and gives up.  Families and schools can encourage students to meet needs in their community or further away. Becoming involved with people different than their family can help students prepare for the bigger world of college.

            Third, a student should have a passion for something important.  This passion will give him a direction in college and a reason for what he is doing.  While passions may change, parents who encourage children to pursue a purpose with heart will have children who expand their abilities, grow strong, and do amazing things.  Listen and encourage dreams.  Avoid telling a child it is impossible or that he is too young for something big.  Give him or her purpose.

            Fourth, wisdom will help a student gain respect and manage day-to-day life with friends and finances.  Wisdom is the practical application of things we know about people and life.  It says things like, “be slow to speak,” “be slow to anger,” and tells us that words are pretty empty without actions.  Expect children to pause before reacting, think about good ways to solve problems, and to treat people right.  Wisdom is a powerful gift to give children to prepare them for college success.

            Fifth, a student with a great work ethic will make good use of money and time in college.  Not everyone will be a scholar with straight A’s, but everyone can become the best they can be. Parents should not let children think that grades or honors can be bought or they deserve them.  Applaud effort, not grades or touchdowns scored.  Effort will serve students well in every situation, especially if things are hard.  A student with a mindset of working hard to make things better instead of giving up will do well in college.

            Sixth, good relationships are important for college success and life.  Lone rangers can get wrapped up in their own thoughts and not get the support that a college student needs.  They are at a great risk for emotional problems.  And, much of success in college and life depends on working with people.  Help children become involved in groups and activities in which they have an interest.  Be relentless to find a place and a group where children are doing something they enjoy with others outside of class in school, church, or the community.

            Seventh, a child who values education will find ways to get it and make it work.  Adults in children’s lives must value education and make sure their children know how important it is to them, both mothers and fathers.   While my parents didn’t finish high school, I knew all of my life that education was important to them, especially for my sister and me.  They taught us that education was the way to live a different life with opportunity that they didn’t have.  I valued it and that value kept me going.

            While these seven ideas for deeper college preparation won’t guarantee that children will succeed in college, they will give them a much better chance of a wonderful college experience that ends in graduation.  As parents, schools, and churches are intentional about preparing students in these areas, deep roots grow to support college success.  At little cost and possible for every child.

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