Students’ view: High school was easy, college was hard

Why do students go to college? Why do they drop out?  In Their Own Voices: Young Texans Talk About Barriers to College Completion (pdf) lets Texans who’ve enrolled in two- and four-year colleges discuss college challenges. The focus groups include college drop-outs, graduates and current students.

Public Agenda partnered with the Lumina Foundation‘s Productivity Initiative and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to produce the report.

Young Texans see a college degree as valuable, but some wonder if it’s worth enough to justify the costs, the report found. Many have friends who are struggling to find work and pay off college loans. 

“Inadequate academic preparation and poor advising in high school set the stage for failure,” the report concludes. Not surprisingly, “for those without strong support systems, solid preparation, and a clear sense of purpose,” the transition to college is difficult.

Between more challenging academics, financial issues and family concerns, pressures mount quickly and powerfully to derail students, particularly those who enter college without clear goals.

Community college students liked the small classes and the chance to connect with instructors. At four-year  colleges and universities, professors were more distant.  College advisers provided little help, participants said.   

Students said higher standards and challenging curriculum would improve their chances for college success, notes College Bound.

. . . many students realized that they were not prepared for the challenge of college-level classes, did not have the requisite study skills or the discipline, and were not ready for the sink-or-swim approach of faculty compared with that of their high school teachers.

Focus group participants recommended requiring four years of math in high school and focusing more on writing longer essays.  They said students should be encouraged to take college-level classes through AP and dual-enrollment programs. Above all, don’t dumb down the curriculum so students can pass, the students and former students advised.

Other recommendations:

  • Have college students talk with high school students about the realities of college.
  • Improve advising so it’s a plan that can be followed over the years.
  • Make it easier to get financial aid and keep tuition rates affordable.
  • Allow students to specialize their education sooner.
  • Provide online classes for working students.

Focus groups were conducted in five Texas cities:  76 percent of participants hadn’t earned a degree;  18 percent had earned a bachelor’s degree, and 6 percent had earned a certificate or associate degree.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON May 11, 2011

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[…] Texans talk about the barriers to college completion:  not enough math or writing in high school, weak study skills and self-discipline and poor advice […]

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