I was part of a highly involved group of student leaders at my two-year institution. We were all involved in multiple organizations which led to a lot of late nights, early mornings and weekend hangout work sessions. Through our time together, we built extremely strong friendships…one of which is actually my wife now :-). We were a tight knit group of lifelong friends who loved college.
But then we graduated and transferred to several different four-year schools around the country. And something happened…
I remember realizing something wasn’t right when we had our first post transfer reunion dinner over a holiday break. The statements about our experiences at our various four-year institutions were neutral at best, while most had a negative sentiment. My group of super engaged leaders were struggling to get engaged at their four-year schools. More importantly, they were struggling to enjoy college like they did at our two-year. While most of my friends dealt with the transition in stride, a few were showing deeper signs of depression.
As time passed, the negative feelings within my two-year friend group grew. I didn’t think much of it until one day when I received an email from one of our friends saying that Adam (protected for privacy) had committed suicide. Then it hit me, and I spent many years later wondering and questioning if the transition from a super involved two-year student leader to a struggling-to-engage four-year student played a role.
Through my questioning over the years, I’ve built up a hypothesis of four reasons as to why super engaged two-year leaders struggle to engage at their four-year:
1) Trouble Breaking Into Already Established Social Circles
Everyone else on campus is already two years into their social circles, which makes it tricky for someone else to try and come in and fill a void in a friend group…because there are no voids. It’s like showing up to a dance after it’s been going on for several hours and everyone is already grouped up, which leaves you awkwardly waiting on the side.
2) Prior Leaders Experience From A Two-Year Not Valued Equally
I remember when I first walked into the student government office at my four-year and asked how I could run for president and the first question they asked was, “Who are you?” I went on to explain all the leadership positions I held at my two-year. To them, if the experience didn’t happen at the four-year, it didn’t happen. No one said it directly, but it was implied throughout. If a tree falls at a two-year institution, does a four-year institution hear it?
3) Having To Start From The Bottom
Without any proof, that they were willing to accept, to prove my prior leadership positions, I was forced to start at the bottom of the student government as a senator and work my way up. It was frustrating and demoralizing to downgrade my skills to levels lower than I was my prior two years.
4) Not Enough Time & Playing Catch Up
To be the president of student government at a four-year, usually takes four years of working your way up the ranks. Some superstars pull off a victory in three years. But with only two years, raising to the top from the bottom is very difficult. Couple that with the learning curve needed to acclimate oneself to a new city, schedule and way of living, it’s easy see why it’s a struggle each step of the way for transfer students.
In taking with other student activities people over the past nine years, I believe I’m not alone in what my group experienced. It’s sad to see such highly motivated students get emotionally downgraded at their selected four-year institutions. Have any of you experienced this first hand yourself, or with your students? What is your institution doing to help support these leaders?
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Podcast With Chris Conzen on Community Colleges