College Students lack preparedness, says an online forum on dropout rates

by Michael Caputo, Minnesota Public Radio
December 21, 2009

Financial support is only a piece of what can help a stress college student succeed, according to a Public Insight Network forum on stress for a college education.

The real problem may lie in preparation, according to the students, researchers, high school leaders and professors who held a “virtual forum” on the topic. The event coincided with an MPR Midmorning program that focused on research by the Washington D.C. think-tank, Public Agenda, which looked at the college dropout issue.

Kathryn Downs, an Inver Hills Community College student, said that she wished for more support from high school academically. And she's seen the evidence of a problem from other students. Downs has helped grade English papers in her community college.

"I would read other students essays to help edit, and it was really hard to do," she wrote during the forum. "I was shocked at the level of grammar that was used. It's hard to help with the staging when the foundation is cracked.

But the preparedness isn’t just academics said the group. It’s also providing guidance and a way to cope with new social situations – like living away from home, and providing for themselves.

"My research over the years indicates that the reason students drop out can be summarized by the fact that there's a huge gap between what students expect college to be like and what they find when they get there," said Valerie Broughton of Minneapolis, an independent counselor for students and families on choosing a college.

Robin Saner, a high school counselor in Rochester, said during the forum that there simply isn’t enough of that kind of support because Minnesota ranks among the worst in the U.S. when gauging the ratio of school counselors to students.

"I think we need to ask how to bridge the gap and to define the role of parents, students, high schools and college," said Perham-Dent Superintendent Tamara Uselman.

The online "virtual forum" also tackled issues such as balancing work with school; the role technology and social networks can play; and the sticker-shock of college tuition.

Check out the discussion below: