freshman

The Graduation Crisis

We tend to give in to averages. For example, if the "average" married couple divorces, then we accept it as natural. However, we rarely think of ourselves as average. In fact, a US survey showed that about 75% of think we are above average. We know that is mathematically impossible, but we tend to think that our lives are better, that we are better than most. Call it over confidence, call it lunacy--you would be right!

Many of us will attend graduations during this part of the year. We expect college degrees from our children, our peers and our co-workers. And when I say "college" I mean 4 year, 2 year and even post-secondary certificates! But college graduation is increasingly becoming a rarity. While there are more college students and college grads than ever in history, the percentage completing their degrees is shrinking. College drop out now exceeds high school drop out. Somehow we accept this as part of the "weeding" process. The law of averages. Or a function of the state of our schools and budget cuts. Part of all of these things is true, but most colleges are not held to any standard of graduation. 

The percentage of college dropouts from college will exceed divorce too. So more than half of college students quit and never come back. They acquire debt instead of a diploma. 

But for those of us who are "above average" we will not accept drop outs--not for our kids. So "other people's" kids drop out. 

But if we ignore this graduation crisis, we do so at our own peril. We need more college grads to make our economy work, to make the USA competitive in the global market. CompletionCrisis

So helping others graduate IS our business---all students need our support to graduate. 

A few random facts about college education:

  • Estimated that the state of California will have 2.3 million shortage of degree holders for jobs created in the state by 2025. 
  • 65% of all US jobs will require a college degree by 2025. Less than 39% of all US adults are college educated today.
  • This gap will require about 23 million net new college grads above and beyond what we produce today!
  • 88% of all 9th graders who start high school in LA county do NOT get any college degrees. This is lower for higher for low income students.
  • Low income students who qualify for college have few choices. Private schools don't take many qualified and competitive low income students so the burden falls on public institutions. Consider that UC San Diego has more low income students than Georgetown, Duke, MIT, University of Chicago, Penn, NYU and Stanford combined! 

There are silly debates about "the value of a college education." Look everyone needs more education. Everyone has to continue to learn and to grow educationally. Anyone who stops a formal learning process is DOA. I am not an education snob. Well maybe I am. :) But I am not saying that all people should go to a university, but it is very tough for anyone to get and keep a good job without the sheepskin and the socialization of an education. Not going to regale you with the long standing stats on lifetime comp, the ROI of an education, or the lower unemployment rates for the educated. These are truths. 

Every individual. Every student. Every human being has the desire and need to grow. To grow their ideas, their ambitions, their sense of significance.  They want more for themselves and their families. The only way to achieve these things is to adopt a lifelong love of learning. To engage in continuous education. To adopt an education mindset. This can start before and during college. 

How do we help people adopt this mindset, graduate and then start their next educational program? It is not easy.

Because you are never done learning. Not talking about how to use Office 2010 or your new iPhone. I am talking about the process of opening your brain to new stuff that reveal more about what you don't know. 

Great mentors do not let others get away with laziness, or giving up on graduation. Great mentors don't accept excuses or allow exceptions to education for those they care about. Great mentors hold others accountable. They push and pull their mentees so that graduation is the only option. 

 So what else can we do:

  1. Help low income students around us seek all of the financial assistance available to them to make their college education more affordable. It is estimated that LA County students left over $100 million of financial aid grants on the table last year. 
  2. Help all students find a college option that meets their needs. An educational institution that matches their interests, not their parents interests. A college that has a track record of supporting students to graduate. 
  3. Hold our alma maters, our local schools, our school boards accountable to graduation rates for all students, especially low income students.
  4. Help students we know get in but THROUGH college. Provide them with moral and financial support that lasts well beyond the freshman year but all the way to commencement. Giving small one time scholarships to start college is only a start. Multi-year scholarships make a huge difference.

College access is just the beginning, we need graduates! What are you going to do to help people graduate?!

Every student who pursues post-secondary education is precious. We can't afford this graduation crisis. We need to mentor all students so they don't end up with just debt and regret. We need their dreams and degrees.

The graduation crises is all of our problem. If we accept the average, we will become it. 

Thanks for reading. John


Final Advice to the "Freshman"

Dropped my third child, my son,  at the dorms to start his freshman year this weekend. Three kids and three kids in college! That's what my wife and I set out to do. What we planned and hoped for. Of course, their graduation and successful employment will be the next steps. But we celebrate this milestone.

As you might imagine, my kids have received a pretty steady stream of observations, guidance, and advice from me. My wife and I have tried to give our kids an edge in preparing them for their futures. The edge of confidence to become who they are. The edge of unconditional support so they can take chances. The edge of parents who don't get in the the way of their kids' DNA and talents.

I said we tried. We had our victories and our defeats. Parenting is the hardest mentoring assignment of all! :) It is a marathon of change. You wrestle with how much you push and how much you pull. You ride the emotional roller coaster of puberty and the emerging demand for independence. Parenting is about second guessing, worrying, over compensating, and enjoying the incredible twists and turns. 

In the end, it is a small miracle that our kid's survive their parernts. After doing this a few times I am still not convinced that the nurture is any stronger than the nature. We think the wild stallions need to be tamed, but I have seen the beauty of the stallions and learned how to watch them run.  Pegasus2

In the end, you can only do the best you can. No time for regrets or shouldas. The next chapter is the best chapter and your role evolves. 

Took my son out to dinner for one last session with Dad. We had a manly meal and talked about his future. I told him how I see him and the story of of his growth and development Here  is a summary of what we discussed and my last words of advice before college:

We have tried to teach you and show you how to live your life.You know right from wrong. How to be respect others. You are now responsible for your own actions. We trust you. 

You have a slight head start in the game of life, don't waste it. Your great grand parents sacrificed to come to this country. Your grand parents were placed in internment camps on your Dad's side and escaped North Korea on your Mom's side. Your family has given you the opportunity to go to college with no financial pressure. Make something happen.

Escape certainty--Certainty will be your enemy to learn. If you think you know everything about a topic or have decided not to understand the "other side" of an issue--college is a waste. Open your mind. It is amazing to learn what you don't know. Gravitiate to opinions and perspectives different from yours. Trust yourself but question everything.

Ask for help--The most important thing you can do is to ask questions. Never pretend to know things you don't know. No stupid questions just stupid people who don't ask questions. Seek advice. Takes courage to ask for help because you can't do it by yourself.

Get involved but shop-- Pick organizations and causes that interest you, not just what everybody is doing. Augment your classroom work with experiential education. Internships, volunteering, and jobs can be powerful learning opportunities.

Beyond the minimum--If you get bored, you have not done it long enough. Let yourself get lost in topics and subjects that interest you. Dive deeply into your classes to see where your passions lie. 

It's not your major, its your mojo and your mind.  Explore yourself and everything around you. Take the classes you want. Don't take courses because you think they will help your career. You don't have a career. Your major is secondary. You are looking for purpose and passion not a job.

We had a good discussion about careers and jobs. He asked me which were my favorites jobs. I have been lucky because I have sought these jobs or they sought me. I approached all of them as college degree programs and tried to master them. We will all be a "freshman" many times during our lives. So each of my careers and jobs have been my favorite for the time I did them. But my purpose has been to help people become the best in the pursuit of a cause bigger than us. 

I gave him three things that I had already given him. Three documents I wanted him to re-read anew. He looked at me with those eyes of compliance, not acceptance..... :)

Johnny Bunko, The Last Career Guide You Will Ever Need--Daniel Pink

7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens--Stephen Covey

Pyramid of Success--John Wooden

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.  attributed to Hodding Carter

We can only give our youth and anyone we care about roots and wings. The roots of heritage and humility. And the wings to fly further, faster and free-er. Time to let go now and watch my son fly!

As in all mentoring, the mentors gain the most. We hope the mentee gained something, enough to become their own mentor and the mentor of others. 

Thanks for reading. John