Two years ago, in their research of Millennial-age students, Barnes & Noble College discovered that when it came to career preparedness, students admitted they had put little thought into organizing themselves for the next stage of their lives. With an evolving learning landscape, and a new generation of students on college campuses this semester, a logical precursor might lie in asking, just how prepared are they for college in the first place? In a recent study by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas, Austin, 86 percent of polled students enrolling in community college said they believed they were academically prepared for college, yet 68 percent needed to take at least one developmental education class. “So they’re not as prepared as they think,” Assistant Director of the CCCSE, Courtney Adkins, explains. “What we’re seeing is that most students are getting by — but they are really struggling,” she adds.
If students aren’t as academically prepared for college as they could be, this new generation of learners does have high expectations about college in general. That was just one of the striking themes to emerge from a new survey recently released by MONEY and Barnes & Noble College this summer. “In some respects, they’re going into college with their eyes very much open,” says Barnes & Noble College’s Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Lisa Malat. “This new generation of students is much more practically minded than their Millennial predecessors, and although they’re still optimistic, they’re very focused on taking majors that will land them a good job,” she adds.
They also seem to have a grasp on just how much it’s all going to cost. “Traditionally, we tend to think it’s just the parents who are preoccupied with the cost of college, but what our research told us is that students are even more concerned,” Malat says. The survey highlighted that while parents put greater weight on a school’s reputation, students are looking to balance and measure the true value of a particular institution and are perfectly capable of deleting candidate schools from their list because of cost.
Where family disconnect exists is that almost 30 percent of students were blissfully unaware of the sacrifices their parents were making to pay for their tuition, according to the survey. “What the survey tells us is that, with so many options out there, today’s students are really trying to look at the bigger picture of what the university has to offer. They’re looking not just for the name brand, but asking themselves, ‘does it feel right to me, can I fit in here, am I going to make friends and connect?’” Malat says.
While Washington administrators point to a fifth consecutive year of improvement in the nation’s high school graduation rates, and while Common Core and STEM initiatives might have helped academically, many students are still being ‘taught to the test,’ without the necessary life skills they’ll need to rely on in college. Forty-seven percent, or almost half, of American high school graduates fail to complete a college-ready course of study, and that lack of readiness is resulting in some challenges for colleges and universities. The New York Times refers to a ‘dropout crisis,’ citing more than a quarter of those who start college and abandon their effort without earning a degree. It’s a major factor in low college graduation rates, and first-generation and non-traditional students are particularly at risk with less opportunity for academic preparation and fewer support resources.
Barnes & Noble College believes support should be available to students in the early stages of their transition from high school to college. “Our students have told us, through our research and store experiences, that they’re not necessarily prepared to hit the ground running from their first day on their new campus — and that they appreciate a ‘road map’ to help them better connect with their new school,” says Malat. “Barnes & Noble College stores build on pre-acceptance email outreach; with in-store events like our VIP Nights, which bring students into the campus community,” she says, adding, “This is more than just about helping them find the right textbooks. By using the bookstore, social media outreach and collaboration with the school’s other support services, we can help them familiarize themselves with a new learning and social environment from day one.”
Despite the rising cost of education, a college degree is still one of the best investments that a young person can make. In 2015, the median income among workers aged 22 to 27, with a bachelor’s degree, was $43,000, compared with $25,000 for those with just a high school diploma. Over a lifetime, a person with a bachelor’s degree typically earns $800,000 more than someone who has completed only high school — even after netting out tuition costs.
The school orientation process can be extremely stressful for new students. They have a lot on their plates and they’re going through a whole life transition. “Retention of students, student success, successful graduation rates and success post-college is top of mind for colleges and universities,” Malat points out. “So, I think they really need to make sure they’re listening and providing the support services necessary for students to succeed.”