Is College Debt Really Necessary? What Parents and Students Should Know

“Had the people who started Facebook decided to stay at Harvard, they would not have been able to build the company, and by the time they graduated in 2006, that window probably would have come and gone.” – Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal.

Ever since I can remember, I was inculcated with the belief that in order to truly succeed in America, you have to get at least a 4 year degree from a prestigious university; even if it means taking on a ton of debt that you may work your entire adult life to pay off.

I also came to believe that if you really want to stay on the top of the heap, then you need to take on even more debt and get a graduate degree, hence my own post-graduate alphabet soup, including law school.

In high schools across the nation, statistics are still being trotted out by guidance counselors to “prove” that young people have no chance of success without that high-priced sheepskin, or that, if they somehow manage to land a job without one, they will never get promoted and will be stuck in bottom-of-the-ladder limbo land for all eternity.

Twenty years ago, the idea that “you have to go to college to make good money” might have been more truth than myth.

Now, though,, the ever-escalating cost of tuition, fees, and books at America’s universities means that post financial collapse parents might want to take another, perhaps more jaundiced view of the entire higher education system even as the old school narrative continues to be shoved down their throats by university marketing departments.

As a financial educator, I have had numerous concerns about my own clients taking on the costly burdens associated with financing their child’s college education. Truthfully, it makes me more than a bit queasy when I see clients raiding their savings and retirement accounts to send Junior to a fancy private school.

This is especially true in a financial system in flux, where, for the first time ever, over 50% of the unemployed and underemployed have college degrees. To make matters worse, there is a bubble on the horizon; large, paper-thin, and waiting for one tiny pin prick to explode it.

This bubble comes in the form of easy-to-obtain student loans that many are finding are not so easy to pay back. A 2012 article on CNN’s website reported that, at a time of record high unemployment for college grads, student indebtedness had reached an average of nearly $27.000.

“… Two-thirds of the class of 2011 held student loans upon graduation, and the average borrower owed $26,600, according to a report from the Institute for College Access & Success’ Project on Student Debt. That’s up 5% from 2010 and is the highest level of debt in the seven years the report has been published.” (1)

Beyond the expense of college there is also the thornier issue of whether most college kids are learning anything of real value that can be applied to the new economy. The education cartel, always in need of fresh blood and fresh wallets, has systematically smeared those who work in the trades as “blue-collar,” or “uneducated,” and thus somehow inferior to those with Ivy League degrees.

Matthew B. Crawford, a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, and author of the bestseller, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, has posited that the degradation of manual labor and the rise of so-called knowledge-based jobs was wrongheaded and that the future will belong to those who actually know how to do things such as build custom furniture, repair a car, or install heating and air conditioning units.

Says Crawford:

“While manufacturing jobs have certainly left our shores to a disturbing degree, the manual trades have not. If you need a deck built, or your car fixed, the Chinese are of no help. Because they are in China. And in fact there are reported labor shortages in both construction and auto repair. Yet the trades and manufacturing are lumped together in the mind of the pundit class as “blue collar,” and their requiem is intoned. Even so, the Wall Street Journal recently wondered whether “skilled [manual] labor is becoming one of the few sure paths to a good living.”

Crawford also observes that “If the goal is to earn a living, then, maybe it isn’t really true that 18-year-olds need to be imparted with a sense of panic about getting into college (though they certainly need to learn). Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things… ” (2)

The Cartelization of Education

We need only look, says bestselling author and trend forecaster Charles Hugh Smith, to the advent of the higher education cartel to see the reason for our obstinate addiction to the “old school” higher education system and the instance that insistence that everyone needs to go to college. There is a lot of money to be made, says Smith, and an elite cadre of cartel bosses who stand to profit by promoting that myth.

“Why does the old style system still persist even though it is already demonstrably inferior? In addition to the financial disincentives, there is another reason: the current system retains a monopoly on assessing student learning and granting credit for demonstrated accomplishment. The schools are able to do this because they have arranged a monopoly on accreditation. This is ultimately a grant of state power.

As a result, modern colleges and universities have collectively become a rent-seeking cartel, an alliance of nominally competitive institutions that maintains a highly profitable monopoly of accreditation. To grasp the power of the cartel, consider a typical Physics I course even at MIT is almost entirely based on Newtonian mechanics, and the subject matter is entirely in the public domain. Only a cartel could arrange to charge $1,500 and more per student for tuition and texts, in the face of far lower cost and superior quality materials, for subject matter that is no more recent than the 19th Century.” (3)

Jeffrey Tucker, CEO of the startup Linerty.me and publisher at Laissez Faire Books, agrees with Smith and maintains that cartelization has ensured that a return on investment in higher education is far from a sure thing for most students and their parents.

… even if the teen does everything right-every test trained for and taken five times, every activity listed on the portfolio, a high GPA, top of the class, early applications and admissions-you are not home free. You are going to spend six figures, but there is also a high opportunity cost: you remove your child from remunerative work for four years, and this is after four years of no employment in high school. That means both lost income and lost job experience. College is costly in every way. (4)

Citing what economists refer to as “inelastic demand,” Tucker writes that the cartel is exceptionally aware of, and deliberately contributes to, parental unwillingness to forego a four-year college education for their children, even if it means putting themselves in the poor house.

“Parents would gladly step in front of a bus to save their children, so facing debt and financial loss for a few years seems just part of parental obligation. This is why, in economic terms, the demand for college is relatively inelastic: Parents keep paying and paying no matter how bad it gets,” he argues. (4)

I see a lot of angst concerning this issue among my own clients. As the parent of a high school student, I understand it. The idea of college “no mater what” is so ingrained in our thinking that when a child tells us they are considering postponing college or even not going at all, parents tend to panic.

However, the stakes are higher than ever before and the potential for damage to the parents’ own financial well-being is enormous, not to mention the contribution education debt makes to our national economic malaise.

Parents and students need to ask themselves honest questions about the value of a traditional four-year degree, what the potential return on that investment will be, and whether or not there are viable alternatives.

Student Debt and Wall Street

As of this writing, current student debt stands at around $1.2 trillion dollars, more than the entire gross domestic products of some nations, including Canada.

After what we’ve discussed in previous chapters, it should come as no shock to you that many banks have turned these college loan obligations into (surprise, surprise) “investments” and are busy shopping them on Wall Street as subprime debt.

The market for these educational loans is relatively small compared to the market for home loans, so I doubt that it will be as massive a bubble as we had during the housing market.

However, if the Fed continues to hold interest rates down, investors might be desperate enough to snap more of them up. Then we could have another potential economy-damaging event on our hands.

Teresa’s Takeaway: Alternatives to Traditional 4-Year Degrees

Many of my clients are able to fund their kids’ education without incurring any debt due to their diligence in creating and maintaining their own private finance system using specially-designed insurance policies. In fact, I set up many of these policies that have as their express purpose the funding of a university education.

That being said, however, I never think it is a good idea to spend money simply because you have it available.

If you are a young person considering college or graduate school, do your research and question your motivations. Before saddling yourself or your parents or grandparents with a lot of debt- consider alternatives to four-year colleges, such as online degrees, community colleges, and trade schools. Ask yourself if what you really love and want to do

Find out if what you want to do really does require a college degree in the first place. Amazingly there are lots of high-paying jobs that don’t require 4-year degrees.

Look into local and community colleges, where your expenses are often a fraction of what private universities charge.

If you’re a recent high school graduate, take a year to “cool off,” work, save and travel. Gain a better understanding of yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. Learn what you have to offer to the world. Contribute to the global conversation in a meaningful way as a volunteer.

A bright spot in all of this is the fact that there are some great alternatives to the traditional sheepskin; alternatives that might actually broaden a students’ understanding of the world and give them skills that are needed in the new economy without bankrupting mom and dad.

Bestselling author James Altucher, a longtime proponent of re-thinking college, provides a few real alternatives to college.

Altucher suggests that some college prospects might be better off taking their college savings and starting a business.

He also suggests traveling to a country such as India and immersing your self in a culture completely different than your own.

You will learn what poverty is. You will learn the value of how to stretch a dollar. You will often be in situations where you need to learn how to survive despite the odds being against you. If you’re going to throw up you might as well do it from dysentery than from drinking too much at a frat party, “he writes. (5)

For even more ideas of what to do instead of college, check the resource section of this book for a link to Altucher’s report “40 Alternatives to College.”

References:

(1) Report CNN Money “Average Student Loan Debt Nears $27,000”

(2) Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work

(3) Smith, Charles Hugh, Higher Education Cartel, Meet Creative Destruction, Sept. 9,2013

(4) Tucker, Jeffrey A.”Is There A Viable Alternative to College?” The Freeman, July 2013

(5) Altucher, James “8 Alternatives to College” The Altucher Confidential. January 8, 2011

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Beyond Suspicion: How American Colleges and Universities Can Reduce Profiling Through Programming

It is believed by many Americans that on the night of February 26, 2012, seven-teen year old Trayvon Martin was profiled, stalked, and ultimately killed as a result of the ‘perceptive-suspicion’, which often invades the lived experiences of African American males in American society. In addressing the findings of the subsequent court case following the teen’s death, President Obama remarked: “there are very few African American men in the country who haven’t had the experience of being (profiled)… that includes me”.

In a study conducted by John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, a review of FBI data specific to justifiable homicide found that in non-Stand Your Ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person. In Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent. In some respect these statistics suggest that within the context of how we as a nation determine guilt and innocence, it is far more likely to be believed that a minority person killed by a white person, is presumably more deserving of his/her fate, than would be believed true for a white person killed by another white person. In light these statistical imbalances, the question for our nation is how do we reduce and eliminate the experiences of ‘profiling’ and ‘assumptive-guilt’, to which many in our country are unfairly subject?

Much of the opportunity to provide frame and structure to the conversation, and achieve positive social change within American society, rest within the higher education community. Colleges and universities after all, have historically served to provide ‘thought-leadership’ to American society, and represent arguably the most significant time in the developmental journey of pliable, young adult students seeking to form their own identities, and life paradigms as they transition from largely ‘dependent’ life realities and world-views, to ‘independent’ realities and world-views within the context of the ‘college-bubble’. In general terms, colleges take in young adults for whom parents are responsible, and graduate adults who should ultimately be responsible for themselves, and the betterment of society.

And frankly this most recent polarizing example of ‘profiling’ could not have come at a better time for American higher education. As questions of cost, relevance, and the meaningful use of the ‘college experience’ remain at the forefront of national discussion and debate, colleges and universities have a unique opportunity to play a critical leadership role in correcting the punitive dynamics of race in our nation, while concurrently achieving the realization of a more sensitive, broadminded, and ethnically aware citizenry within the United States.

Given the current landscape of American higher education, and the nature of the opportunities that lie ahead to improve the lived experience’s for African American males, and other minority groups within American society, I offer three imperatives upon which higher education must act in order to seize this opportunity to lead efforts toward positive change, from the American campus, to the larger American culture.

1. Focus the learning experience on the intercultural and global competencies needed for success in today’s diverse society. In today’s global environment, colleges and universities bear a tremendous responsibility to construct and deliver educational programming that not only equips students to compete and succeed intellectually across academic disciplines, but also intelligently across a number of cultural expressions and experiences. In short, higher education bears a large portion of the responsibility for the emergence of a fully integrated person, post matriculation. Persons who are emotionally mature, and embody the wherewithal to think critically and compassionately across a myriad of far reaching societal issues. Moving forward, colleges and universities must continue to prioritize curricular and co-curricular programming that intentionally exposes students to a global context, and the realities incumbent therein. Diversity in new student recruitment, study abroad programming, diversity education programming, real-world simulative experiences, etc, must be positioned as ‘mission critical’ to the learning experience, and not positioned as merely ancillary components of the larger academic experience. Diversity education must become imperative to the full completion of the educational process, and a permanent part of our educational identity.

2. Ensure that the use of emerging technology within the educational experience incorporates the opportunity to build community. As we continue to move things online what happens to our opportunity to build community? In considering the rise, placement, and the scalability of delivery through Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC’s), Dan Greenstein of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, raised questions as to whether or not higher education is suffering from “innovation exhaustion”. While others like Cathy Sandeen, Vice President for Education Attainment and Innovation, at the American Council on Education (ACE), have raised concerns about the “meaningful use”, and “appropriate placement” of the advanced technology in higher education. As technological advances continue to provide expanded platforms upon which to deliver educational programming, colleges and universities must take a serious look at how they will maintain the vital essence of ‘community’, which has historically been a critical under-pinning to both the college experience, and the social development of students. Much of the ‘student development’ and paradigm formation that occurs during the college years hinges on the historical, yet brilliant concept of human interaction and personal engagement, both inside and outside of the classroom; as cultural expressions and experiences collide, and students organically develop the framework for how they will articulate ‘community’ within their unique spatial circumstances. And as the demand to offer more insular learning opportunities increases, colleges and universities must find new ways to integrate the ‘human’ touch in both curricular and co-curricular learning, and must continue to help students provide meaningful response to the following: (a) Who am I, (b) Who are my peers, (c) How do we live in community, (d) What will my life produce, (e) and What will be my legacy. Colleges and universities are in a unique position to define what knowledge about the world graduates take away with them, and must ensure the continuance of meaningful and introspective dialogue with students.

3. Leverage collective influence to ensure that diversity remains a legal priority in college admissions. Although it is clear that our nation has achieved great strides in improving the lived the experiences of minority populations, there remains an even greater opportunity to expand the reach of diversity and inclusion even further. The recent Supreme Court ruling in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case, in many ways left more questions than answers, and provided little if any guidance for how colleges and universities should manage efforts to achieve student diversity in higher education going forward. In a 2009 speech to a Joint Session of Congress, President Obama noted that the educational levels of our citizens, puts our nation at risk for economic decline, noting that “countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow”. Much research has conclusively shown that diversity in our learning environments improves critical thinking, research and innovation, and is an overall economic asset. Colleges and universities must identify ways to wield their collective influence to shape the policies that govern admission practices to ensure that diversity in college admissions is protected as mission critical to our advancement as a nation, and not merely viewed as a social cause for minority populations.

American higher education has a tremendous opportunity to shape the future of American society, and positively address many of the ‘ills’ that plague our nation. Providing the appropriate educational experiences to our emerging young citizens will enable them to move beyond uninformed biases, and the limiting stereotypes that often accompany those biases.

Maintaining this focus will be critical to ensuring that future generations have the intellectual dexterity and awareness to engage both society, and the marketplace with an informed global consciousness; and further ensure that they are poised and prepared to thrive in the world of diverse ideas. Colleges and universities should lead the way in framing the path to achieve these outcomes. No other institution in American society is more qualified to do so.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Continuing Education

Pursuing higher education will come with great benefits, as well as pitfalls. This article will examine both to help you choose.

The top advantages of continuing education include:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics depicts that individuals earn more with each educational attainment. As an example, compare the following median weekly earnings by educational attainment:

· Workers with Associates Degrees – $785/week

· Workers with Bachelor’s Degrees – $1066/week

· Workers with Master’s Degrees – $1300/week

· Workers with Doctoral Degrees – $1624/week

Furthermore, unemployment rates decrease the higher up the educational ladder one climbs.

Another study by Global Business Hub showcased how heading back to school opens up employees’ eyes about new technological and work trends. Interacting with other leaders, or soon to be leaders in the business also provide key networking opportunities that may come in handy in the future. Ultimately, higher education provides a competitive advantage over one’s peers or in the workplace.

Continuing education is also convenient and completely feasible, given that online colleges are plentiful, and can also be completed with reputable colleges offline. Working adults can pursue new goals or even make a career switch – on their own schedule.

The top disadvantages of continuing education include:

More on student’s plate – in addition to work and family life, students returning to an online degree school in adulthood will need to squeeze in time for school as well. Taking on more than one can handle seems like a recipe for disaster. However, many working adults make this work by creating a schedule and carving a disciplined mindset. Inform family and friends to chip in, or forego partying for a period of time until the goal of higher education is complete.

A strain on finances – while many working adults have the advantage to earn while they learn, higher education is not considered to be a drop in the bucket. Fortunately, there are many programs to help offset these added expenses including student loans, as well as affordable monthly payments offered by some colleges.

Recreation Takes a Back Seat – a study by the Global Business Hub stated that adult students are less likely to take vacations. However, this shouldn’t deter one from pursuing higher education, as reminders constantly exist that this situation is temporary.

In the end, despite the cons of continuing education, the balance is tipped in students’ favor in the long run. As a reminder, this includes higher pay, better job security, and increased confidence.

What Is the Relationship Between My Education and Oppression Today?

The expression of education and oppression in today’s modern society can be traced to the very premise upon which the institutions of education are predicated. Theologian Cardinal Newman’s views[1] on education shed light on this meaning, “This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intellectual not moral; and on the other, that is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement (p. 122)”. Here we find the very idea of my own journey into higher education specifically in the context of my Catholic faith. The numerous sources described various situations were ideological choices of purpose are bestowed upon the students. In one case the affluent student must continue the rise of his family honor and in the next case the poor student seeks “liberation” (p. 124).

My own story is one of seeking liberation from a “historically oppressed minority” (p. 126). Choosing this type of Catholic education at Creighton resonates with me. The correlation of stagnancy and ignorance to lack of education seem very real as I am sure is does to the Native Americans in Pine Ridge and Rosebud Lakota (p. 133). Creighton University has taught me that through upright character and the art of Christian living (pp. 128-129) that action follows faith. Theologian Michael J. Buckley, S.J. captured this idea with, “a new orientation towards social action and efficacy and a conjunction between literary education and moral and religious formation” (p. 128).

In today’s world of mammon allowing for access to education, I would not have chosen this path if not for my inherent knowledge that my whole person will be evaluated in the context of my community. The pathway forward out of oppression for me is to serve the greater good. This includes my family and the community of like-minded people working for God’s glory. It is this type of education even in this online format that makes the end goal of being a “better human being” (p. 130) possible.

What Is the Secret to Student Success?

Within the field of higher education, one of the important metrics for gauging the effectiveness of programs is student retention. Retention measures the number of students that a school has been able to keep in their programs and in contrast, attrition measures the number of students who have withdrawn – either voluntarily or involuntarily. Another important word for this field is persistence, and that is meant as a student measurement. While retention and persistence may seem to measure the same criteria, I have made a distinction based upon the actions taken. For example, a school may have retention programs in place; whereas, helping students succeed in their programs bolsters their ability to persist and continue to make progress.

The sector of higher education that I have the most experience in is the for-profit online college, with roles ranging from online educator to faculty development specialist, Chief Academic Officer, and Dean. For this industry, the typical retention rate is 50% or less. Retention initiatives that have been implemented in many of the schools I’ve worked with included changing feedback requirements, grading requirements, and the curriculum itself to make it easier for students to pass their classes. While these initiatives may provide some help for the bottom line, I have found that it has little impact on the student experience. What matters most for students is their ability to persist and be successful in their attempt to be involved in the learning process. Is there a secret to student success? In my experience, I have learned there is and it has to do with the support and resources students receive from the school and their instructors.

Growth of the Non-Traditional Student

When I entered the field of higher education over ten years ago, the phrase “non-traditional student” was becoming popular and I have watched it become prominent now – especially with regards to how courses and curriculum are designed for students. The essence of this phrase is meant to describe new types of students, other than those who are starting college right out of high school, who are enrolling in college level courses and programs. This one of the important factors that drove the growth of the for-profit online college industry. It is not uncommon to see online programs being offered for what is called the “working adult” – with promises made that the degrees obtained will help them advance within their chosen career.

As a general rule, the non-traditional student can be a mix of someone who is older, part of a minority group, speaks English as a second language, attends school part-time, is employed, and has prior life experience. I have had non-traditional students in my online classes with a range in ages from their 30s to 60s, with many who were also working full time. What this means for these students is that their school work is not their only responsibility and that can create periodic time management challenges for them. In addition, by having life experience these students cannot be treated like blank slates, which is someone waiting to receive knowledge being dispensed.

The Role of an Educator

Within traditional colleges and universities, the role of the educator has remained largely unchanged. This means they are at the front of the class and the center of attention during each scheduled session. It is a teacher-centered approach to instruction that is utilized in primary education. This educator typically provides a lecture and students are expected to study for quizzes and exams. In contrast, an educator who is teaching online courses is finding that their role is evolving. The very nature of a virtual learning environment puts the primary responsibility for learning on the students.

I have coached many traditional educators who have tried to make the transition to online teaching and found it to be difficult to adapt to as traditional teaching methods do not translate well. I can empathize with them as educators devote time and effort into developing their career and becoming a teaching expert – and then having to learn new methods may produce a lot of natural resistance. Online teaching requires changing the focus from teacher-led to student-centered instruction. Does this have a direct impact on student success? The answer is absolutely yes, as an educator must be comfortable in their role and understand the needs of the students they are charged with teaching.

Advisor vs. Success Initiatives

The traditional responsibility for working with students has been part of the role of the academic advisor. The advisor is someone who may assist students with a wide range of tasks that includes registration, enrollment, course selection, and the list continues. Often this was a reactive role and that means an advisor could address a wide range of questions but only when initiated by the students. Within the for-profit online college industry, I have seen the advisor’s role evolve and include responsibility for conducting follow up for those students who were at risk for failing and/or dropping their courses.

There have been other initiatives taken by online schools to help students persist and one that I was part of was a success coach program. I was responsible for conducting a periodic check-in with students, and these were students outside of the classes I was assigned to teach. Unfortunately, the project was short-lived and to this day I am not sure of the reason why it was disbanded. I have also watched an increase in the number of resources that are made available to students as a means of helping them succeed, and one of the most common resources provided is through the use of a writing center.

There is a newer non-profit online school that has been hiring mentors, who are meant to take the place of faculty. Students do not have regular classes and instead, they study to take an assessment – usually with a very low or minimal required passing score. It is similar to correspondence courses that preceded the online for-profit industry. There isn’t clear evidence yet to support that someone calling students every week, without having course specific knowledge, subject matter expertise, or higher education experience, has an impact on student persistence rates.

How to Support Student Success as an Educator

What I can state with certainty, based upon my experience and my work with hundreds of educators, is that students need an instructor – and just as important, they need ongoing support. I realize this statement goes against the foundational concept of a massive open online course or MOOC; however, I know that an educator serves as the front line for helping to implement retention strategies put into place by the school and being able to work with students to help them persist or succeed. This is where the secret to student success can be found and it is within the relationship that is established with students. An instructor is in a position to develop a relationship with students because they are working with them through learning activities, feedback, and discussions – and all of these tasks prompt learning. In other words, learning is relational. Below are strategies that any educator can use to help support student success, regardless of the class or subject matter being taught.

#1. Provide Ongoing Support: Are you keeping track of the progress of your students? Every student has developmental needs, even those who are doing exceptionally well in your class. When you are familiar with their needs you will know what resources to recommend – whether those are sources provided by the school or supplemental resources. Even recommending additional materials to review, along with subject matter related videos, can help to enhance the learning experience and encourage engagement in the course. Why? The more interested a student is in the course, and the more they are able to develop their areas of weakness, the more they are going to be able to persist.

#2. Provide Engaging Feedback: I have heard many instructors state that students do not read the feedback provided and if they do, those students never seem to implement the suggestions provided. What I have discovered is that students develop a perception about feedback based upon their experiences. As an instructor, I have tried to provide engaging feedback by taking time to insert comments directly into student papers and ask questions, offer insight, share my expertise, and relate the topics to the real world. Again, if students find that you have taken time to do more than provide a grade, they are going to take time to at least consider what you have written. The more engaging your feedback becomes, the more likely they are going to maintain an interest in performing their best.

#3. Develop a High Level of Responsiveness: For some students, the thought of asking a question or making a request for help can be intimidating – especially at the beginning of a class when there isn’t a relationship established with their instructor. When students approach you, and seek your assistance, your ability to demonstrate responsiveness is going to make a difference for them. If you can demonstrate a genuine concern for their request, and make it a point to help them in a meaningful manner, they will develop a perception that you care and become more willing to work with you in the future. They will also be more receptive to your coaching and feedback.

#4. Always Be Aware of Your Disposition and Tone: As an educator, you must be mindful of how you feel and the emotions you are experiencing as you work with students, as this will have a direct impact on your disposition. It will extend further into the tone of your communication and for an online class, you are represented by the words you use and you must consider how those words will be interpreted. While you need to remain professional, it will be helpful to add some warmth to your messages to help develop a connection with your students. For example, consider the difference between the following two options for responding to a student’s email: #1) “Student: This is my response to your email,” or, #2) “Hello Student: It is good to hear from you. Here is a suggestion to help answer your question.” Do you see how the second option communicates professionalism, warmth, and a genuine concern for helping?

#5. Provide Follow-Up and Follow-Through: This probably one of the most important elements for student success and that involves going beyond answering questions or providing feedback. It means you are paying attention to your students, all of your students, and you make it a point to maintain coaching and mentoring attempts at all times. If a student asks a question via email, and it involves something complex or may not be easily resolved, a simple follow-up email or call can support their success. When a student is struggling, has performed poorly, or is not active in a class discussion – don’t wait to see if they improve. Contact that student right away and offer assistance. In addition, consider the value of a phone call and how a personal touch could influence their well-being. As another example, if you tell students you don’t have an answer to a question, be sure you find an answer and then follow up with them.

With all of these strategies, you are working to bring out the best in your students and nurture their ability to succeed. This leads to another question: If learning is relational, can someone other than an educator work with students to help them succeed? From my experience, the answer is yes. If there are individuals who are tasked with helping students succeed, and are trained to do more than ask “how are you doing” types of questions – they can also develop a productive working relationship. It then becomes a matter of training those individuals to understand the many factors that make up student success and persistence, including self-motivation, grit, determination, and resilience – along with academic habits such as time management and study habits.

The role of someone who serves as a success coach needs to support both the students and instructors. For example, an instructor can utilize an early alert system and notify the success coach when a student is at risk. The coach can also support the students by devoting time and attention to all of them, checking in with them- even when it may seem that they are doing well in their classes. While adding a role like this to online degree programs requires a financial investment, the ultimate goal is to improve student success or their persistence rate. This in turn can have a positive impact on student retention overall. Student success is not a one-time event or something that occurs because a school changes its courses or curriculum. The secret to student success is the relationships that are established, nurtured, and maintained at all times with students.