In many ways what I write about in this article runs contrary to my belief system. However, I find it quite alarming and perhaps it explains some of the concerns that we have about our students that go on to college. Let’s get the conflicts I have off the table right away. First of all, I am going to reference a report from the founder of a company that produces an app that parents can purchase to keep an eye on their college-age student. I am skeptical about a report produced by someone that has something to profit from because of the report. I don’t trust the authenticity of reports when self-interest is at hand. Another issue I have is that I also have a problem with big brother watching. When kids turn 18 and are legally adults, and then go off to college, they are responsible for their lives. They need to take responsibility for their actions and accept whatever comes their way. With those two disclaimers out of the way, I still find this very interesting!
Jeff Whorley, founder of a company called Core Principle, contends that “college students spend more than $31 billion a year in classes they don’t attend.” I have heard adults reminisce about their college days with a few of them joking about skipping out of classes or figuring out what classes they needed to attend and those they didn’t. In my four-plus years of college I can count on one hand the number of classes I missed. I guess that it was always drilled into me that you needed to be there. I also recall a student in a class who complained openly to the professor that she didn’t think she was getting her money’s worth out of the class because he wasn’t setting high enough expectations or teaching us anything, yet she rarely showed up.
In high school we have attendance requirements that include notifying parents when their child has missed a certain number of days or classes. We have excused and unexcused absences and, and if unexcused there are consequences. When absences are excessive, we hold meetings and work out plans for improvement. At North Fayette Valley we consistently average near 95% average daily attendance, and for the vast majority of students, they are able to sustain their level of performance. But when it comes to college, there are some significant differences.
Again, according to Whorley, “on average, students report that they don’t attend about 20% of classes throughout their collegiate career.” If that is an average, it is no wonder that the dropout rate at college is so high. The national statistics have been relatively consistent the past few years with 40 to 45% of students who start out at four-year colleges or universities not graduating in six years. What a significant failure rate! The correlation is very strong between those who do not attend and those who do not graduate, and, they don’t get their money back for all of those credit hours, housing, meals, and other things they have paid for. A lot of money — $31 billion — is thrown away!
The reality is that this happens in Iowa as well. Statistics from about five years ago showed that for every 100 9th graders that start out in the fall, 83 graduate from high school four years later. This number is improving, but it is still needs to be better. Of those 83, 54 immediately enter college, either in a two- or four-year program. By the end of their second year of school, only 37 of them are still enrolled. When it comes to graduates, just 28 will earn either an associate’s degree within three years or a bachelor’s degree within six. For a state that prides itself on education, the reality is that we aren’t doing a very good job once kids are on their own and attending college.
There are some significant differences between being a high school student and a college student. The amount of freedom and down-time, a need to prioritize, new social opportunities and a host of other things are challenges that a student faces. Perhaps the biggest is simply standing on one’s own feet and having the ability to make good decisions, and when obstacles emerge, being able to overcome them. I see college freshmen come running home right away as soon as the first weekend rolls around, and every weekend after that. They are already wasting precious dollars, as well as opportunities to grow and establish their independence. Also, keep in mind that once the student turns 18 and is in college, parents cannot access their records without their child’s permission. Mom and dad cannot check up on them like they did in high school!
So how do we help students stop throwing away money? Perhaps a contract with parents is a place to start, at least if mom and dad are footing the bill. You fail a class, you pay for the class. Maybe something else that would help is to not allow the student to have a car at college. It is still not uncommon for parents to drop their kids off at college, thus making it extremely difficult to come home every weekend. Requiring that they break ties and work through the process of developing independence and responsibility may also help them value what is important. It would also save on fuel costs, leaving more money for the student to pay back mom and dad should they still choose to skip classes!