Education Expert: The Real Price of College Success

As students graduate from high schools across the country and look forward to starting college, parents have more questions than ever.  As their sons and daughters prepare to leave home and start their lives as independent adults, parents are right to be concerned about their next steps.

The freedom that college represents can be empowering for students that are prepared to succeed, or it can lead to disaster for young adults that aren’t ready to manage their newfound autonomy.  According to a 2010 report by ACT Education Services, less than 40 percent of students at four-year public colleges completed their degree within five years, and only 55 percent of private college students persisted in college.  The numbers are even lower for two-year colleges—only 28 percent of students at public community colleges can expect to graduate on time, if at all.

With college costs soaring, it’s critical that today’s students enter college with a plan for their success.  Education and parenting expert Malcolm Gauld is President of Hyde Schools and author of COLLEGE SUCCESS GUARANTEED: Five Rules to Make it Happen (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011). “Like” on Facebook. Gauld has spent much of his prolific career teaching and coaching college-bound teenagers and working with their parents.

“I’ve watched thousands of teens go off to college. Some take off like rockets from the get-go, while others either fail to launch or crash and burn before midterms,” Gauld says.  “Independent time-management is the key to a healthy start—and finish—to college.”

It is no secret there are myriad distractions available to college students that often relegate academics to the back seat. While many students do participate in the work force in order to defray college costs, (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded more than thirty-eight percent of enrolled college students participated in the labor force in 2010.), current media headlines indicate that college partying is ubiquitous.

Gauld’s philosophy for success in education is based on his experience and success in working with students at the Hyde schools, and raising his own three children. The schools’ educational foundation is grounded in character and leadership development and the notion that who you are as a person in society matters more than what you can do.

“College Success Guaranteed” outlines a simple plan for students navigating the new world of college life.  The lessons focus on the idea that attitude is everything in college — based on studies presented by groups like Fairtest.org, standardized test scores have little to no bearing on a student’s academic performance in college.  Even the most talented students will struggle in college if they lack confidence, the ability to seek out mentors, and emotional independence from their parents.

Gauld interviewed dozens of college students and graduates to get a first-hand sense from them of what — in terms of pre-college preparation and actual college survival — works and doesn’t, and from that developed five simple rules for college students:

GO TO CLASS: Showing up is the most basic and essential component to success in college. The average college schedule only requires 12 hours of class time, so there’s no excuse for not showing up to learn.  Gauld found that showing up builds character, empowers students to learn, and creates meaningful connections with professors that can last a lifetime.

STUDY: It seems obvious, and yet every year thousands of students fail out of college because their study habits are weak.  Gauld outlines a plan for studying three hours a day, five days a week, that emphasizes “ripping the guts out of any book in less than two hours” and making smart decisions about maximizing learning — without burning out.

COMMIT TO SOMETHING: A study by Iowa State University found that participation in extra-curricular activities like sports, volunteer organizations, political groups, or arts clubs is one of the best ways for students to save themselves from being overwhelmed by the free time college offers.  Getting involved correlates to higher levels of self-esteem, better grades, and lower delinquency rates.  Students that commit to something are also more likely to report feeling in control of their lives, and more likely to continue their education beyond college.

GET A MENTOR: It’s rare, if not impossible, for a student to navigate college alone.  The trick, says Gauld, is in finding the right support systems.  He encourages students to seek out mentors from all areas of college—professors, coaches, advisors, and more — who can offer encouragement, criticism, and access to resources like internships or leadership opportunities.

PROCRASTINATION KILLS: Everyone who receives a college diploma has one thing in common—all got their homework done. That doesn’t have to mean that they always completed every assignment perfectly, but it does mean that those graduates knew how to balance distractions with class work.  Gauld’s advice includes amusing but important tips, such as “Beware the Internet,” and reminders to students that without time to eat, sleep, and shower, they’ll be sunk.

“Parents have a huge role in how well their children are prepared for college, but most likely not in the way they think,” says Gauld. “Giving children at an early age enough responsibility allows them to understand the formulas for reaching desired and undesired outcomes. More and more parents are having a hard time letting go and allowing their children to experience life’s inevitable bumps.”

Author Madeline Levine, Ph.D., writes in “The Price of Priviledge:  How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Unhappy Kids,” parents play a crucial role in helping their adolescents prepare for the freedom that comes with early adulthood and college.  “Kids who have not had repeated experiences of finding ways to manage frustration may give the appearance of moving forward, but they have not accumulated the necessary self-management skills of self-control, perseverance, frustration tolerance, and anxiety management that will allow them to address the more complex challenges that they will encounter as they continue to climb higher.”

Gauld’s experience in working with teens and their families taught him that the best way to parent a college-bound student is to model good character and empower them to take charge of their own lives.  “Parents that have managed their kids’ lives throughout high school are often shocked when their students start to fail in college,” Gauld says.  “But I’ve seen so many students with high academic ability struggle mightily once they’re on their own.  It’s the students that learn early to manage independence, academics, work, social life, and their own emotional well-being that ultimately thrive in college, and in the rest of their lives.”