College-prep expectations don’t mesh with realities

“I worked hard in high school, but they could have worked me harder,” said Belisle, now a sophomore. “Not only was I adjusting to new people, a new place to live and a new city, but I was adjusting to a new way of learning.” | From the U.S. Department of Education to the company that designs the Advanced Placement (AP) program, experts have described a growing problem: High-school and college expectations rarely connect. Most high-school graduates are not prepared to enter college, studies show. And when they do enroll, many are not prepared to succeed. —Cara SolomonCollege-prep expectations don’t mesh with realities  (Seattle Times)

I have great sympathy for students who have been told all along that they are bright, but who have never been asked to work hard until they get to college. In fact, I think it’s a tragedy that students like Miss Belisle (quoted above) weren’t challenged to reach their full potential.

I remember that some idealistic part of me died when, a few years ago at my previous job, I was teaching a freshman composition course and made a reference to “when you used to do homework for high school,” and the class burst out laughing. When I asked them why, they said they never did homework beyond cramming the night before an exam (or more likely the lunch period before an exam). They watched movies during English class instead of discussing books that they read outside of class, and their English papers were summaries of the plot that they remembered from the movie (or that they got from Spark Notes). The very idea that an instructor would read their essays and check them for logical consistency and critial content, rather than simply for grammatical correctness, floored them.

Last year, National Geographic published an article about dorm life, and one college student reported spending eight hours a day entertaining himself with games, TV, or the Interent, three hours a day in class, and an hour or two a day on homework. I don’t care how “bright” this kid is, or how much time and effort he puts into charming his teachers — he’s not going to succeed in college for long.

I don’t mean to presume that every student who isn’t doing well is wasting their college tuition in this manner. Seton Hill University has numerous resources, ranging from tutors to in-class note-takers to financial aid to counseling of all sorts, to help students who are struggling. Yet I am stunned to see that some students react instead by simply not showing up in class.