What are the needs of a first year student? At the moment, I am working with a grant funded program at Austin Community College (ACC). We focus heavily on the needs of first year students, and making their experience positive, while seeing that they persist to their third semester and beyond. Whether the first year student is coming directly from high school or coming back to school from the work force, there are certain key elements that students need to be successful. Many may call these professional or soft skills, but some of our students are lacking in the skills that employers are looking for. It is our job to be sincere about our passion for student development and success.
I recently attended the Student Success Symposium. During this conference, Carol Carter, president of Lifebound and author of Keys to Success, presented information on academic coaching. Much of the information is applicable to any Student Affairs professional. According to a Gallup Poll surveying 30,000 students and asking them what they need more in their higher education journey, students stated they needed more preparation for the life after college. Students also stated they needed professors and staff that are passionate about their success, and care about them as people. First time in college students (FTICs) don’t have all the answers, but need to be given room and the opportunity to find those answers. In my experience, traditional FTICs are not always properly prepared from the secondary level to be a successful freshman, or they are not using the tools that were given to them properly. This is not to point fingers at secondary level institutions, rather it is the responsibility for all educators to prepare our future economic leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, and activists to know how to effectively communicate, problem solve, work with integrity, and be accountable. These non-cognitive skills will connect the bridge between academia and professional world.
One professional skill that my students are seemingly struggling with is persistence. At the moment, I am working with a grant funded program that focuses on first time in college students. We are essentially functioning as a First Year Services office. Because we are also the Office of Student Life, we wear many hats. We have students that are thinking of quitting school to make quick money on a daily basis. Many of the students are traditional students, and their external circumstances have clouded their need to persist. Our students need to see the light at the end of their academic journey. It is difficult to see that at times when life happens. What can we do? What do we have the power to do? We have to power to teach, coach, and mentor our students, and show them that quitting should not be an option. I have told many students that it is wise to “press pause” on their journey in order to realign, re-calibrate, and resign what they think they know. I have had many students to come to the realization that college is nothing like high school. No matter how many times I tried to tell them, some had to realize it on their own.
Student Affairs professionals have many tasks in working within our passions, and one of them is getting FTICs to persist. There are no second, third, and graduating students if they do not persist into their second semester. We have to take care of those who are in their first semester, if not, our colleges will be empty and our jobs will be gone and the future generations will suffer. Feel empowered everyday to help, lead and mentor students.