Convincing high school students to give it the old college try
During the new school year, it is likely that hundreds of thousands of high school students already have heard the following from teachers: “You need to do this because it will help you prepare for/get into/do well in college.”
The problem is, many teenagers know little about college. They don’t understand how much work is involved, how much fun and freedom there is, or how large the economic payoff can be. Therefore, they do not see college as the logical and necessary next step in their educational process. This isn’t too surprising, though. In 2008, only 29% of U.S. citizens over the age of 25 held bachelor’s degrees, which means most children do not grow up around parents or relatives who have earned a degree or who fully understand the benefits and process of doing so. Unfortunately, this can render ineffective a teacher’s use of college as a motivator/incentive.
How can students be convinced it is important for them to attend and graduate from college? One possibility is for high school teachers to formally teach students, especially 9th graders, about college. I saw a good example of this yesterday while observing a first-year teacher on the west side of Chicago: His freshman English class spent 25 minutes playing a Jeopardy game in which all the questions related to college. When students answered incorrectly, the teacher spent time explaining the right answer. Some might question this use of class time in a core subject area; however, I believe students will get more out of that class over the next nine months because they possess a better understanding of the benefits of academic success.
That said, all of us benefit in myriad ways when more students attend college, graduate, and participate in the global economy. We should consider it our responsibility as citizens to help the adolescents with whom we have contact learn about college.
What should students know about college? A good starting point might be that a person with a bachelor’s degree typically will earn nearly twice as much per year than a high school graduate. Also important are the differences between high school and college in terms of expectations, schedules, classes, and homework. Many students, for example, think they will spend more time in class during college, when in fact they only will spend half as much time as they do in high school. This is a pretty big selling point for 14-year-olds tired of spending seven hours per day shuttling in and out of classes. And of course, any description of college would be incomplete without some talk of student organizations, sporting events, parties, and freedom. In the end, students should understand that college is not simply an extension of high school, but a fun experience that will present new and different challenges.
Students also might be motivated by learning more about the changing world around them. Thomas Friedman’s book, The World Is Flat, which he summarized nicely in a 2005 New York Times piece, makes a compelling case that students in the United States need to step up their academic game. And a recent story about Detroit shows how shockingly bad things can be years after students fail to take school seriously or continue their education.
Students who understand why college is a desirable destination are likely to work harder and perform better in high school. Let’s all pitch in and help them develop that understanding.