The college fear factor
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In higher education, there is a common misconception that if students do not excel in college, it is due to a lack of motivation on their part. Imagine students failing to send in big assignments or dropping out after the first class: it’s not an outrageous claim. “These students today just lack the inspiration they need to excel in college,” a professor might think.
Dr. Rebecca D. Cox spent years interviewing community college students and faculty for her book The College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand One Another (2009). Cox discovered an alternative explanation in the voices of these students, who are now the new conventional students on many campuses (first generation, employed, parents, etc.). Fearing that they won’t excel, that they don’t belong, or that they aren’t smart enough to attend college, students make self-protective choices that can be perplexing to experienced educators who lead classrooms and campuses.
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Harvard University Press, 2009, 198 pages, by Rebecca D. Cox.
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Adam Chapnick is an associate professor of defense studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and the deputy director of education at the Canadian Forces College.
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They aren’t the students strolling through the idyllic liberal arts colleges where their grandfathers were football players. They are first-generation college students, the descendants of immigrants and blue-collar workers who understand that a degree is essential to their future success.
College, on the other hand, is costly, foreign, and daunting. Inexperienced students anticipate difficult classes and challenging, distant professors. They may not understand what an assignment entails, what a score means, or that a single grade isn’t a reliable indicator of skill. They don’t believe they have the right to be there. They don’t expect to succeed, even if they do, they don’t expect assistance or even a second chance.
Rebecca D. Cox builds on five years of community college interviews and findings. She demonstrates how, despite good intentions, students and teachers misinterpret and eventually fail one another. She explains how quickly students can feel defeated—by their real-world obligations as well as the demands of college—and conclude that they don’t belong there at all.
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What: A statewide opportunity to read, discuss, connect, share, and learn about a book on a subject that is interesting to us and relevant to our work. This year’s theme is strengthening student communication and increasing their sense of belonging. Rebecca March and Cheryl Neudauer of Minneapolis College produced this piece.
The College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand Each Other is the title of the novel. “I spent five years talking to and watching community college students,” says Rebecca Cox. She took careful note of all the ways they had failed their exams. She listened intently to their justifications.” – Washington Post blogger Jay Mathews