Personally, I do not know how they feel since I graduated from college. Years ago, though, I taught in a community college where I played a role out of Star Wars: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.”
While I am not a Jedi Knight, “The Force” in education is life-changing. For many community college students it is their only and last hope. Most are fragile and have failed repeatedly in academic settings. If I make them strong, they and their children live entirely different lives. Alas, often before I could, their closet of ghosts intervened and they were gone.
In New Mexico nearly sixty percent of students who start college do not finish. That is on top of the 35% of students who do not graduate from high school. The New Mexico workforce is full of citizens who did not get a high school diploma or college degree. At least there is the GED route for high school dropouts.
Those who start college and do not finish are injured in three ways: first, their time in college could have been spent doing something more productive for their lives. If they join a company two years earlier, they would advance those two years instead of starting at the first step years later. Secondly, student loans they took out to attend college must be paid back but without the earning power of a college degree.
Finally, in the time of my parents having a year or two of college was a plus. That is no longer true. On a resume the person attended college but did not finish is a minus.
One thing that does not hurt is finishing college later rather than four years after high school. The person finished and has the degree. This makes me wonder why there is not a huge effort in New Mexico to recover students who have left college without earning a degree.
Mind you, many former students left college with a bad taste in their mouth so the effort to get them back in school would have to be extraordinary. Singing the college fight song will not do it. But increasing the population of citizens who have college degrees would be well worth the extraordinary effort.
Colleges have three missions, degrees, research and community service. The most visual mission is degrees. There is an inverse relationship of persistence-to-ease-of-entry for college students. The easier it is to get into college, the more often fragile students will get in and not finish.
Personally, I like when New Mexico colleges take a chance on students that Harvard would not. Some students surprise us and get a degree, often as the first member of their family to get a degree, but not the last.
New Mexico colleges all try to keep fragile students in college. But I do not know of any effort to recover the lost ones. That should become a major effort in New Mexico where colleges develop new methods to address the barriers for these fragile students to complete their degrees.
In the last couple of months I have helped a couple of students considering returning. In the case of one student I went with that student to see what barriers there were and help out. The jury is still out if this student will actually be in college this fall.
What I experienced would preclude most former students from returning. Sad. Even I was discouraged in the effort. How can we retool the colleges to develop a mission to get those former students to finish? It would be time and money well spent by colleges, perhaps funded by their endowments.
The colleges need this revitalization. Remember, if the colleges can get these students to graduate, they might enthusiastically join their Alumni Associations and, dare I say it, they might buy football and basketball tickets.
Dr. Michael Swickard is co-host of radio talk show News New Mexico 6 to 9 a.m. Monday - Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org