The college fear factor

Afraid of failure, community college students sabotage themselves, says Rebecca Cox, author of The College Fear Factor and an assistant professor at Seton Hall, in an interview with Update, published by the University of Illinois’ Office of Community College Research and Leadership.

Students feared being judged, not being good enough, or not being college material. This meant that not handing in an assignment, not taking a test, not asking a question in class, or not going to office hours was an effective way out of that dilemma. So the strategies ironically worked to manage their fear, but they didn’t help them succeed in the class.

. . .  it’s very easy as a faculty member to read disengagement as lack of motivation or lack of interest.

In composition classes, many students “believed their job was to write information down to either regurgitate on a test or record it for later use.” Cox says. They were confused by the instructors’ attempts to get them to participate, but didn’t explain their confusion to their instructors.

Struggling students will drop out without asking for help — unless they have some relationship with the instructor, Cox says. That can be as basic as calling on students by name.

Writing instructors also can start the semester by asking students to write about themselves without the fear of being judged or graded. The teacher can learn about the students and assess their writing skills.

Trying to boost completion rates, community colleges are focusing on peripheral strategies, such as offering more advising, tutoring or access to a learning center, Cox says.  We can’t restructure community colleges “unless we think about the very core function — teaching and learning in the classroom.”