The August 23-24 edition of the BDN contained two provocative articles by Nell Gluckman regarding student retention rates in the University of Maine System.
Public university students fail to graduate for many reasons, including among others a lack of good guidance, changes in their economic fortunes and a perception that college is not a sound investment.
Dwindling applications have led to the acceptance of more students needing remedial assistance, putting tremendous strain on student services. If we cannot provide staff for their needs, accepting these students is unfair, as many leave in debt but without degrees, and comprise, I suspect, much of the 15 percent of students who leave after one year.
Retention issues reveal another of The University of Maine’s deepest weaknesses — the shameful percentage of classes taught by adjuncts, who may not act as student advisers. Thus, as tenure track positions vanish while Maine adds students needing special attention, student/advisor contact opportunities shrink, and when the advisee load for each full-time professor limits the time the two can spend engaged in this vital process, the retention problem is exacerbated.
While the challenges mentioned above are formidable, there is a deeper core problem that has worsened in the last decade. Put simply, our retention problem originates with students arriving on campus without independent living skills.
One must commend University of Southern Maine Professor Libby Bischof (“USM Professor works to bring students ‘back into the fold”) for her efforts on behalf of her advisees. That she need be so proactive illuminates the problem. In short, too many Maine kids aren’t emotionally prepared to succeed in college, and the primary reason is their lack of independence. Advisers shouldn’t need to tell 20-year-old students when to register for classes.
Communication technology contributes to the problem, as scores of my students have told me they text or talk to or one or both of their parents several times a day, and I’ve overheard students on their cell phones asking mom or dad to help them handle a minor issue with a roommate, or complaining that they need gas money to drive home for the weekend.
This reliance on mom and dad does not always stop there.
A few semesters back a student’s mother called to talk about her daughter’s grades — something not permissible by law — and to explain why her child arrived too late from a trip home to make my 11 o’clock Monday morning class. When I said I could not discuss this, the mother blurted out, “Laura hadn’t seen her best friend in two months and wanted to spend some time with her.”
The excuse was as ridiculous as the fact that the daughter allowed her mother to do her bidding, and it’s hard to know who to feel worse for, the daughter who insisted that a flat tire caused her to “stay over Sunday night,” or her mother who offered a different excuse.
Becoming an independent adult is part of the college process. That many college students struggle with this is likely rooted in the phenomena of helicopter parents, a well-discussed plague in the interscholastic sports world that needs no additional discussion here.
What far too many parents need to learn is that teaching their children to stand on their own two feet and to deal with life’s vicissitudes is good for them, and that over-protection breeds dependence, which stifles a child’s emotional growth.
Most of my students are hard-working, decent, positive people. They are the ones who graduate and who do the best in class. They are also the best emotionally prepared to deal with the challenges of college and university life. I see them at sporting events, concerts, recitals and other performances and activities on campus. A great many of them also have jobs. They are taking control of their lives. They are not the ones who load up the car on Friday with a week’s worth of laundry and head home to let mom and dad make everything alright.
Bruce Pratt of Eddington is a writer, poet, and playwright and an adjunct instructor of creative writing and hockey literature in the English Department at the University of Maine.