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Why Are More & More Students Unprepared to Succeed in College?

By Jenny Ortiz

Freshman. Freshies. Freshmeat. Whatever the term for first year students may be at any college, what is agreed upon is that in the next four years they will learn a lot in and outside of the classroom. From day one, their parents  try to impart little gems of knowledge that will help them along the way: don’t leave with a stranger, there is a washing machine and a dryer, vegetables over fries, don’t use that pick up line, please comb your hair, this credit card is only for emergencies…

While all of this is very important, it’s rare that a parent instructs their student on how to be a good student. To them, the high school faculty and staff were the ones to have not only given them good study habits during their time in high school but they were also supposed to have given them strong advice as to how to become a straight A college student.

As a Freeway Flyer, I’ve come to note that even the best high schools lack the guidance centers that truly help the student transition from secondary school to college. Of course there is funding, over population and a focus on troubled youth to factor in but even with these variables, the rest of the college bound students are not obtaining the guidance they need to succeed in college.

Many of the college faculty complain that secondary schools have fallen into the trap of teaching for state exams. While this may be true, as an instructor, I have come to realize that this has already been taken into account. I still have to spend the first month getting my students all on the same level of understanding particular to this class. Learning how to expand on critical thinking as well as how to draft writing assignments are only two out of the countless core lessons I need to provide my students in the core classes they take at the college.

St. John’s University provides an excellent variety of classes a student must take in order to proceed into the classes for their major. This allows the student to develop good study habits, how to interact with faculty and learn the common knowledge used school wide. At Adelphi University, the Writing, Learning and Tutoring Center encourage students to build themselves as academics with a variety of workshops and study sessions. At LaGuardia Community College, remedial courses in English and Math provide students with not only a good basis in the discipline but also give them a glimpse of the college workload.

Every college is prepared for students who lack the academic basics, but what they are not prepared for are students that have been given no guidance when it comes to their future and their interactions with others. It’s easy for me to say, I’m a simple professor and my focus is to teach good reading, writing and critical thinking. The fact is, the students who lacked guidance in high school are the ones who disrupt the classroom.

For starters, there is a distrust this particular student has in the professor and other students that is hard to shake off. A student who was ignored by his guidance counselor won’t trust an instructor to explain the details of an assignment or to even care if this student is lost. This student also won’t trust a fellow classmate with the job of reviewing a draft. The student has been programmed to believe that the only person who will get him  ahead is himself.

This lone student will be lost when it comes to special programs, workshops, and other events the school hosts. How could they as they have never been guided to seek these activities out? A guidance counselor is supposed to guide their student to clubs and organizations that promote the student’s interests and allows the personality to grow.

The student, however, is ignorant to this as they have to work full time to even keep themselves in school. Joining a club would only get in the way of saving for the next tuition bill. Of course they’re worried about money, they were never instructed on how to apply for different scholarships.

Finally a student may or may not be in the academic institution right for them. Without any guidance or instruction, they have no way of knowing if the college they’ll be attending for the next four years is really the ideal choice.

The list of discrepancies can go on, but it isn’t my job to point them out. It is my job to help the students who do come in lost and confused. The first goal is to build trust between professor and student. Whether this happens in the classroom or during office hours, a student should feel free to express ideas and opinions about the assignments and about themselves as a college student. Once the distrust disappears, I can encourage my students to seek out opportunities the school provides. Career Centers will help students figure out what it is they want to do after they finish school, while the Writing Center will help them build study habits and finally the leadership programs will pay these students to be a strong voice within their academic community.

It’s a shame that our students are thrown into the big world of college with a laundry bag and a credit card for emergencies. They weren’t given the manual to pursue academia. College–all higher education–has become a means to an end. Everyone has to get a degree or face a life time at a low paying job. With this mindset, then there is no reason to guide a student towards greatness. Simply steer them to the nearest college.

As an instructor, I can’t agree to this mindset. The better prepared our students are and the better their choices (in classes, in workshops, in clubs etc.), the better adults they become. So these students come in lost and confused. It’s the job of the college to see that they don’t leave that way.

What are your thoughts? What are ways we can guide our students, while maintaining our roles as academic instructors? I’m interested to know your thoughts.

About The Freeway Flyer: Jenny Ortiz is a quite serious 24 year old New Yorker, except when unicorns (specifically chubby unicorns) are involved. When she isn’t pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she is teaching at St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and LaGuardia Community College (see, quite serious). When she isn’t teaching, she’s hanging out with her friends showing off  earth and water bending skills (not serious, but super fun).  When she is alone and it’s raining, she likes to read Haruki Murakami, or listen to the Broken Bells and daydream.  If you want to be a fan, you can read Jenny’s work on fictionatwork.com, Blink-ink.com, Jersey Devil Press, dogeatcrow.com, Break Water Review,Stone Highway Review, Eighty Percent Magazine and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/jnylynn.

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