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Meet Me Halfway

Meet Me Halfway

Today’s blog post comes from Jessica McQuaig, a junior at Northern High School in Durham, N.C., and MDC’s 2013-2014 YO:Durham intern. YO stands for Youth Opportunity, and YO:Durham interns attend a Summer Career Academy and receive on-the-job training and coaching through paid internships during the school year. Jessica is interested in art, design, and computers. We’re excited to have her contributing to our work—and to the blog!

The September/October edition of the Washington Monthly is all about college: rankings and commentary and recommendations. In “Dropouts Tell No Tales,” author Jamaal Abdul–Alim explains the factors that influence the average high school student who transitions into college but drops out before finishing. He analyzes the low graduation rates at his former college (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and speculates on how he was able to graduate when so many of his classmates did not. In his research he discovers lack of preparedness, lack of guidance, and lack of knowledge of available resources can cripple the progression of a college student. (Also: partying). Abdul-alim’s visit to his alma mater highlights the responsibilities that individuals and institutions have when it comes to successful college completion.

Individuals must take personal responsibility for their learning and make a commitment to do the hard work that learning requires. Thinking about where you want to go early on helps immensely; that way, you can be sure to take the high school courses you need to be prepared for college. Many students interviewed for the article said they had a hard time with college math, but had not taken math in their senior year in high school—a perfect example of a high school student who didn’t take it upon his or herself to prepare for the rigorous classes in college.  I, myself, am a junior in high school and I plan to take calculus my senior year so I can be better prepared for classes in college.

While the math classes may be difficult, the prospect of choosing a major and a career can be overwhelming, too. It is a huge decision and many young people think they aren’t capable of getting where they want to go. Colleges have resources for freshman and sophomore students to help them understand who they are and, ultimately, what they want to do in life. Unfortunately, there are some students who are unaware of these resources and wander from major to major throughout their college life.

For some, that makes college seem like a waste of time. “I’m a very goal-oriented person, I hate to do stuff and not know why I’m doing it,” says Nick Robinson, a former college student at UWM.  Students who have not chosen their majors also have not chosen their goals or purpose as to why they’re in college. Institutions can do things that support students’ individual commitment and make big decisions less overwhelming. They provide resources such as advisors, counselors, tutors, and financial aid. They also can make the decisions more clear and help students choose by being more specific about options. Abdul–Alim was struggling in math and did not want to fail another math class; he is grateful for the college counseling he received at UWM. “It was my UWM adviser…who recommended I take that summer math course at MATC (Milwaukee Area Technical College).” Resources at any college need to be advertised to its students accordingly to help them figure out exactly what they want out of their college experience.

Increased college completion rates are important to individuals, communities, and our nation. Students and institutions can work together, binding individual and institutional commitment, to reach common goals: graduation and a fulfilling career.

With Abby Parcell