Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Never Underestimate the College Youth of Today ... Meet Jane

Again and again I read articles, often written by older faculty members at distant universities, that the college students of today are under-motivated and ill-prepared for college. That "this generation" is not as good as generations before. To that I say ... "Baloney!"

Today I had the unique experience of visiting with a student, who took my Business Law I class a year and a half ago, during her second semester of college. I will call her "Jane," although that is not her real name. A very good student, she excelled in my class, and others that semester.  During that semester I saw the beginnings of a transformation - from a girl whose own fears sometimes put obstacles in her path, to a young woman who is, as Henry David Thoreau put it, ready to "suck all the marrow out of life."

I saw her briefly, today. How is she doing now?

First, Jane is looking forward to graduating in another year, with a B.B.A. degree and a 3.0 or above average. (Quite an achievement at our College, where grade inflation has never set it - only 0.1% of students last semester had a 4.0 average - for the semester).

And she will pursue her lifetime dream of owning a business someday, after she first gains some additional business experience. She plans to move across the entire country to Washington State, in pursuit of this dream. There she hopes to land a position with a company or firm in need of an energetic, talented young manager, salesperson, supervisor, or administrator.

Second, Jane is taking 16 credit hours this semester, and she's working three different jobs - 50 hours a week. Together with cobbling together student loans, she'll make it through college.

Third, even with her heavy workload, Jane is involved in at least two clubs on campus, and actively involved in their activities. She "makes time for her passions," as she calls them - including trips with Alfred State's Outdoor Recreation Club. She's even saving up for a cross-country road trip for six weeks this summer, including traveling the entire West Coast, camping along the way (all by herself!).

I'm so very proud of her. Especially since, when I had Jane as a student during her freshman year, Jane was at first not involved with activities on campus. She was, to a certain extent, full of worry and self-doubt. But with a little push, some shared "success tips" to get her thinking, and some guided self-reflection, she began to more fully explore life's many adventures, and to push herself out of her comfort zone. It didn't take much of a push from faculty members. Very soon she started pushing herself forward, again and again, gaining ever-greater confidence along the way. Today she excels at conversing with others, and I suspect she mentors quite a few younger students on our campus, and enables them to grow their own horizons. Success is contagious.

This is not to say Jane still doesn't have concerns when she graduates, such as paying off the student debt she has accumulated. And, of course, gaining a good job that will challenge her, and further develop her abilities. But what she also has is ... courage, resilience, and grit. With these traits she will overcome the challenges which arise along life's path.

As I reflect upon my own college experience, I see that students who enter college today are faced with different challenges than thirty years ago. There are many more distractions, such as online video games, hundreds of television channels, smart phones, social media sites, and so much more. Students also face the challenge of paying higher tuition costs, relative to what earlier generations paid, in large part because of withdrawal of state support over time for higher education (leading to higher tuition and other fees). College textbooks are often $200 to $350 each; I used to spend that amount for all of my books in one semester - and that was in law school, where textbooks were more expensive.

Due to these increased financial pressures, college students today are more likely to rely on student loans, as the size of grant programs has diminished over time. And they are far more likely to seek out employment while attending college full-time as a residential (on-campus) student, as student loans are not enough.

The new college student of today is also the product of a secondary school system that, for many students, placed far too little emphasis on development of critical thinking and math and writing skills. Instead (as many educators at high school often bemoan about) they learned as their instructors "taught to the test" (i.e., standardized state-wide, nationwide tests). I empathize with the high school teachers of today - very few of them are permitted to teach using the techniques and strategies they know will work best. (We need to return control of our primary and secondary schools to our communities, and eliminate both federal and state government interference - but that's the subject of another article.)

So how do we react when college students appear before us, as college professors, for the first time? As educators, I hope we are coming to terms with the challenges which exist for our students, and for us as well. I hope we react to these challenges not with dismay and dismissiveness. Rather, I hope we  take the students - as they appear before us - and then work with them to improve their socialization skills, writing skills, math skills, self-control and grit. I hope we find ways to assist students develop the ability to motivate themselves, to adopt good habits, and to minimize procrastination. I hope we guide our students in the adoption of S.M.A.R.T. Goals, including goals in which the students, themselves, will actively push themselves out of their comfort zones as they stretch their horizons and become even better persons.

Let me return to Jane. She is a treasure - a success story in the making. But she's not an exception. Rather, in my experience, she is the student of today. And she is the college graduate of tomorrow.

All it takes of us, as educators, is a little push here, a little caring there, and sharing of the means of self-motivation and adoption of the growth mindset. Then, like Jane, our students blossom, right before our eyes, become self-aware and, within a very short time, act to propel themselves forward and upward.

In conclusion, the college youth of today are every bit as special as those of prior generations. Perhaps even more so in this highly technological, connected society of today. Jane is a living example of her generation - befuddled at bit at first, receptive to change, and then blossoming into a college graduate every employer would want to hire. All it takes is a bit of mentoring, a guiding hand, and an occasional push - and then you will find yourself astounded by what this new generation can accomplish.

And, by the way, if you are currently in business in Washington State, and if you desire to hire in about a year an exceptional, self-motivated, people-oriented, hard-working student as an assistant manager or supervisor, or in a sales role, or in a people-oriented administrative position, drop me a line. Because Jane might just astound you too. She will be visiting Washington State in the summer of 2014. And she will be an outstanding college graduate from Alfred State College, with a Bachelors in Business Administration, in May 2015.

Ron A. Rhoades, JD, CFP(r) is an Asst. Professor in the Business Department of Alfred State College, Alfred State, New York. With small class sizes, many faculty-student interactions, and with 80% of students residing on-campus (and the rest within a short drive), Alfred State offers the ideal environment to assist students in their personal growth. We pride on students "hitting the ground running" ... with the skills employers want to see, and with the grit to accomplish difficult tasks which employers may put before them. To contact Professor Rhoades, e-mail him at: RhoadeRA@AlfredState.edu. Thank you.

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