“Positivity can change Lives”

An interesting study has been going on at the University of Texas (U.T.), Austin, TX.  Faced with some disturbing statistics, school administrators are addressing head-on the problems faced by many students entering the world of higher education:

A LOT of students show up to college but never get their degree
o   >40% of American students who start a 4-year degree will not graduate after 6 years
o   Including Community-College students, the dropout rate is >50%, worse than any other country except Hungary.

Rich kids graduate; poor and working-class kids don’t
o   ~25% college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to get a bachelor’s degree by age 24
o   ~90% of college freshmen born into families in the top income quartile will finish their degree

But Why?  How, precisely, do you motivate students to take the steps they need to take in order to succeed?

Every college freshman — rich or poor, Caucasian or minority, first-generation or legacy — experiences academic setbacks and awkward moments when they feel they don’t belong. But students from wealthy backgrounds, college-graduate parents, generally white families tend not to take those moments too seriously or too personally.  In general, they don’t interpret those setbacks as a sign that they don’t belong in college or that they’re not going to succeed there.

However, minority students – whether by race or by class – face particular fears, anxieties and experiences of exclusion that come with being a minority who are susceptible to this problem. With these students, temporary setbacks can be interpreted as a permanent indication that they can’t succeed or don’t belong. Women in Engineering, 1st-generation college students, African-Americans in the Ivy League are examples of groups that feel to be under more scrutiny.

U.T. developed a Dashboard approach reviewing variables such as student’s family income, SAT scores, parents’ education background, etc. to determine probability of the student’s likelihood of graduation.  These students were selected to be part of an “intervention program” to receive support from a University Leadership Network advisor, Texas Interdisciplinary Program mentor or other “student success programs”.

What’s most striking about the success of the intervention programs is that the selection criteria for the students is not revealed to them.  The university staff never convey that the students were selected because they fear they will fail but focus on their confidence that the students will succeed.  Improving the students’ sense of belonging had a positive response on their academic performance which hopefully, increases their probability of graduating.

While still a fairly new program at U.T., the researchers and administrators are encouraged.  A bigger part of the solution is taking U.T.’s experiment and expanding to more colleges and universities.  Imagine what the potential would be if American universities took this philosophy to give working-class teenagers the tools they need to be successful professional!  The process isn’t easy but it’s possible!

For the full article, please see  http://nyti.ms/1sQVz83.