Today was an odd day. It’s our “Student Success Day”, a day set aside for extended faculty office hours and various presentations and programs to encourage good financial habits, transfer to four-year or professional programs, even basic study skills and time management. Many of us refer to today as “ample parking day”, although it did seem more crowded than previous SSD.
Highlights of the day are the biology teacher who bakes awesome brownies as a bribe for her students, and shares them with us, and the guy who uses the time between students to clean up his worse-clutter-than-mine office.
I always pass around a sight-up sheet for students to reserve time for meetings and typically get a few walk-ins to balance the no-shows. I had about 8 visitors, which is typical, with concerns ranging from class material to career discussions. So it was, I guess, a worthwhile day.
But one guy who showed up was the reason for today’s post. He’s repeating the class to try to pull up a low grade from before. Too often, people who do that still have the same problems with family hassles, too much work time, or just poor study skills and wind up not improving much.
Unlike those students, “Alex” has really turned around this term. He aced the first exam with > 90%, and has been a leader in his class group work. He’s just much more focused than he had been. So when he came to SSD, I asked him what he’d changed.
One non-trivial thing was that he’d gotten some anti-anxiety medications. Now, I thought “Old Alex” was the opposite of anxious, he seemed like a bit of a goofball. But maybe that was a way of overcompensating? Anyway, a second really important thing that he did was to quit his bartender job. He finally realized that working until 2:30 in the morning and then having to go to class six hours later isn’t a good plan.
He also mentioned that he had decided to take advantage of the seminars and programs that are offered. And, whaddaya know, he found them to be pretty good and useful.
There are so many personal, intangible factors that go into whether a student can be successful. I guess part of it was that he’s matured over the years. But if we look into what has helped other than his maturing, it comes down to two key, and expensive, factors. First, good medical/psychiatric care helped him improve his focus, and second, he developed the financial resources (or at least awareness) to be able to cut out the draining work schedule.
As a matter of practical, college-level consideration, these two factors are difficult to facilitate. Having an on-campus psychiatrist visit, or even someone who can do good referrals, would probably be pretty spendy. Even with the ACA, many students won’t have good enough insurance coverage because they’re likely to choose minimalist plans. I’ve seen signs up saying there’s a doctor on campus one morning a week, but I don’t know how heavily used that service is, nor whether there is good psychiatric referral there. Financial aid and tuition support is of course directly related to dollars. Giving students good financial planning skills, including finding a good balance of work income vs. study time, are one of the things we try to do in these SSD seminars, and other ongoing programs.
So is there a good way to turn Old Alex into New Alex for more students? I’m sure there’s a lot of synergy between the maturing and the ability to take advantage of the opportunities. The faculty members are supposed to be good at their discipline, and hopefully good at pedagogy, but we can only draw on our own life experience and maybe the memories of former students in counseling those
who come to ask. As for helping students to complete college without having to quit just to pa, that’s a tough one. We’re a tax-subsidized public institution, so it will require a greater commitment of state dollars. And not too many politicians are willing to make a 10 to 20 year investment with a two-year election cycle. Plus, it’s tough to sort out the Old Alex types who could benefit from either intervention to turn into New Alex.