Unlike high school where teachers and parents can direct and influence what students do, the opposite is usually true of university. Total freedom! As a result, even though good marks are what get young people admitted to university in the first place, the characteristics and skills that are most needed to succeed are self-discipline, organizational abilities and perseverance, as well as knowing when to ask for help.
The importance of first-year university mid-terms exams —
But before I get into those issues, a little reminder. Absolutely everyone who attends university at some point in their lives remembers the mid-point of their first course or first year. In most universities there are what are called “progress exams” or “mid terms” in first year at the end of November and into early December. They exist for very good reasons and primary among those reasons is a wake-up call as to how well (or not well) students are doing.
The results can sometimes be very demoralizing because unless the students are self-disciplined and organized, they usually don’t do very well, sometimes even failing. Why? Well, I hate to inform parents about this (as though they don’t already know), but the first semester in first year is usually all about partying and students discovering the world around them — without anyone supervising them, particularly if they are not living at home.
The reality is, universities are totally free of the constraints of high school. No one telephones or texts students when they sleep in and don’t show up for class. Similarly, no one telephones or texts when they don’t hand assignment in on time, or nags them to study for their mid-terms — although many profs do try to find ways to communicate to those students who are not fulfilling their obligations. However, the first honest-to-goodness wake-up call is when they get those exams back.
The effect of never learning how to fail —
As a former university teacher, I have seen the long faces and the tears. I have also heard “but I didn’t realize….” more times than I care to remember. Why did they not realize? Well, in hindsight I have now come to the conclusion the reason they didn’t realize was because they are seldom taught the consequences of what happens when they don’t do what is required of them.
For example, I have written many articles about how our current high school systems in this country are passing kids even when they don’t deserve to pass. Why? Because there is a deep-seated belief that a child’s self-esteem will be adversely affected if they fail at anything. Here is a link to the Ontario Ministry of Education’s “success initiative,” which I and many others have relabelled a “no-fail” policy. Well, let me tell you, the falsity in that view hits home really hard when the results of mid-terms arrive.
What universities can do to help students succeed —
However, all is not lost if the students will take the time to get help. That is the first and most important step. Yes, they blew it. But, if they can learn from that and accept help, they will learn what it takes to really be successful. Yet, as Carson Jerema writes in Macleans, only 30-40% of Carleton University students accept the help that is offered them — even when Carleton staff approaches them.
That is most unfortunate. Because, attending and being successful at university is no different from high school, except it is the learners who must supervise themselves, something they will need to do in whatever path they take in life. So, that is where self-discipline and perseverance comes in.
What should universities do? Like Carleton, they should use the results of mid-terms and first year finals to find out which students are “flunking out” and offer to help them. For students who are having difficulties adjusting to university expectations, it is my hope that they will, in turn, accept the help offered.
Some endnotes regarding the Macleans article —
- What I found especially interesting was the fact that those who are “flunking out” are not necessarily what progressives like to promote as disadvantaged or minorities. Rather, they are just students who are failing and dropping out because of their low marks — from all walks of life regardless of their cultural or socio-economic status.
- Moreover, universities themselves had better look at their retention rates after first year. Jerema writes, for instance, that the retention rate at Queen’s University is high at 95%, whereas at Brandon University in Manitoba, it is only 70.3% (meaning that 30% of Brandon first year students are either quitting or flunking out).