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Preparing Students for Success In the Academy

Preparing Students for Success In the Academy

By Dr. Carlton Pickron and Trevor V. Hodge, M.Ed

In spite of the growing body of political and intellectual rhetoric regarding student success in the academy, the need has never been greater to redefine where the burden of responsibility lies to ensure such success. For the past 10 years, politicians, educators, policy-makers and all the essential stakeholders in higher education have heralded the success of colleges and universities around the nation for continuing to be on the cutting edge of research and enrolling more youth from more diverse backgrounds. More than two-thirds of our high school graduates are going to college.
However, reports published through the U.S. Department of Education on retention continue to show a dismal account of student graduation rates in colleges and universities. Over the past three years, both the National Center for Education Statistics and the Council for Aid to Education have reported that dropout rates have soared between 44 and 50 percent. While this number is an across-the-board representation of all students enrolled in higher education during this period, the problem is more pervasive among minority students.
Historically, all citizens were guaranteed access to higher education through the Morrill Act of 1862. Coupled with this guarantee came many fiscal initiatives over the past 10 years to ensure that this guarantee continues to be just that — a guarantee. Some of these initiatives have included the College Opportunities Tax Cut, GEAR UP, and the Dual Degree Initiative, among others. Notwithstanding these attempts to ensure that all citizens have access, the dropout rates still seem to soar. What then might account for this phenomenon?
Interaction with students over time has suggested that it is perhaps a limited understanding of students’ role in their success. Through the shared experience of more than 30 years in higher education, many of our observations point to a chronic apathetic attitude, which breeds behavior that impedes academic success.
Time and time again, students make purchases on the culture of mediocrity and espouse what we refer to as the “excuses doctrine.” Central to this idea is a powerful statement: “Excuses are the tools of the incompetent, which build bridges to no where. Those who use these tools of incompetence are masters of nothing” (Author Unknown). What is perhaps essential then, given this indictment, is an urgent need to deconstruct this doctrine of excuses and arm our students with practical skills that will aid in their  success.
Here are some approaches we recommend to students to improve their academic performance:
•  Develop a strong sense of self. Know who you are and be proud of your heritage.
•  Maintain connections with your “support base,” whether at home or in your respective communities.
•  Develop a sense of shared ownership with your education and campus environment. Get involved. Broaden your understanding of others. 
•  Use the campus support network. Find out what academic and personal counseling services are available on campus; and
•  Form study groups. Typically, students who participate in study groups stay in school and achieve at higher levels.
Malcolm X reminds us that, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

Mr. Hodge is an academic advisor and adjunct faculty member and Dr. Pickron is associate dean for academic affairs and director of academic advising at Westfield State College in Westfield, Mass.

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