In dorm rooms and shared apartments across the country, anxious
college freshmen are unpacking their bags and moving into
the next phase of their academic journeys. Having successfully
navigated the educational system thus far, these budding intellects
are ready to take on the demands of higher education.
Or are they?
College enrollment is up, due in part to the increasing focus on
helping kids get accepted. They are thrown on the college track as
early as elementary school, and in many places they get institutional
help in meeting college-admission requirements long before high
school. More and more, private tutoring and counseling add to the
acceptance chances of those who can afford it. Why, then, with all of
this college prep, are the attrition rates of first-year university students
so high? According to the 2007 "Condition of Education" report, by
the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education
Statistics, nearly half of all college freshmen never earn a degree.
This dropout rate, in many cases, is not due to any lack of academic
skill. Instead, the reasons are related to a lack of emotional,
social, and self-care abilities needed for a major life transition.
Numerous studies cite self-esteem, stress, anxiety, depression, and
minor health issues as the most accurate predictors of grade-point
averages and enrollment-retention figures for college freshmen. The
honors courses, standardized tests, and practice application essays
that are the heart of the present college-prep formula do little to
prepare students for these challenges. We have figured out how to
help kids get accepted to college, but we fall short in helping them
cultivate the skills needed to prosper there.
It is time to redefine "college prep." Getting into a college is just
part of the goal. We need to look beyond acceptance to the crucial
adjustment kids have to make to life once they are there. College
living demands a skillful shuffling of academic expectations with
the excitement, pressures, and demands of living independently -- often for the first time. Personal wellness, maintained through solid
coping skills and knowledge of holistic health, needs to be as
important as academic excellence for students who want to thrive
in college once they clear the admissions hurdle.
I am not talking about adding some New Age peripheral fluff to
the social-psychology class. I refer to the kind of realistic and practical
self-care training that is effectively transforming the corporate
world, the medical system, and other major institutions concerned
with production and success. This preparation is a matter of recognizing
potentially self-destructive stressors in a new situation and,
given this particular audience, finding a fun and engaging way to
teach proactive, preventative actions to cope with them.
An ideal college-prep curriculum would be based in experiential
practice and would emphasize self-reflection. High school students
would explore various ways to prevent, manage, and respond to
stress, and they would have the opportunity to discover what
works for them before they succumb to the chaos of college life.
Coursework and assignments would look at vital, practical issues
such as the role of exercise and diet in emotional well-being and the
value of time management, financial health, and social skills.
Activities would be designed to give students a strong sense of self
and self-efficacy, as well as the resources they need to cope with
change. The idea is for students to get some practice in being independent
in self-care before they are actually out there on their own.
College is a time of self-discovery. It is a period when students try
on different roles and characters, test their limits, and take risks with
their new freedom. Without a strong sense of self and the tools
necessary to weather the inevitable turbulence of this life change, it
is all too easy to drown in doubt, confusion, and, in worst cases, self-destructive behavior. We need to make wellness wisdom an integral
part of college prep, not just to make sure that our kids graduate but also to improve the quality of their college experience.
Credit: Indigo Flores
Jill Flury earned a master's degree in holistic health education from John F. Kennedy University. She lives in Oakland, California, where she is working on a book that focuses on wellness education in college preparation.