We all hear statistics thrown around about all kinds of issues. What can you trust? When it comes to students, college attendance, choosing a major, changing majors, time-to-degree attainment and student debt, there appears to be a correlation between clarity of personal goals and quality of decision making skills at the high school level and the length of time in college, student success and student debt. But noone is focusing on root cause of student success. They are simply studying what is happening in the general college student population or causes of student failure. Students got it right: it is all about MOTIVATION.

Even a Google search for "Why do college students succeed"produced 65 million hits for opinion articles that were basically "tips" on how to succeed based mostly on study habits. Studying root cause for success is more elusive. Asking students and faculty what causes student failure starts to get at the root cause.

"In short, according to the college students who participated in the study, motivation is the leading cause behind students’ failure or success in completing schoolwork. Motivation influences students’ attitudes, study habits, academic readiness, and so on." Higher Learning Commission, 2014 Collection of Papers, conclusion of 2011 study of students opinions for success and failure

According to faculty who responded to the survey "Why do students fail?", the number one reason (37% - 40%) for college student failure was "Not Ready for College".  Other significant reasons listed include Lack of Effort (11% - 13%), Lack of Motivation or Interest (9% - 14%) and Failure of Educational System (14% - 24%).

Not Ready for College
The student-related factor that both two-year and four-year faculty members mentioned most often was students not being ready for college-level work (cited 231 times, or 38% of responses). Faculty members stated many reasons, including the fact that a significant number of incoming students have poor levels of or a complete lack of academic preparedness for college courses, lack of learning and study skills, and/or lack of organizational skills (including time management and setting priorities). More than half of the respondents cited students’ lack of academic preparedness and poor study skills, note-taking skills, reading, and scientific reasoning skills, lack of experience, and more, without directly attributing responsibility. Others specifically blamed students’ K–12 education for this lack of preparedness. It was difficult to separate these two criteria as both dealt with lack of preparation, rendering students not ready for college work. As one respondent said:

They have not been adequately prepared for post-secondary work and may lack foundational skills (such as the ability to write clearly, comprehend readings, follow instructions, etc.) that interfere with their ability to achieve passing grades. For some reason, many students do not learn these skills throughout grade school and high school, and so when they reach college they are not ready for what it demands.

Still others said that students are “underprepared for college-level work in terms of basic writing, reading and thinking skills. For example, they have an inability to think critically, an inability to express oneself in a written format, and an inability to comprehend the nature of assignments.” One respondent said students have a “high school-rooted misconception that one can pass a course without studying,” and several cited the lack of college-level reading and writing skills and other essential study skills.

One of the respondents who blamed high schools or K–12 education stated that four-year college students are more prepared than two-year college students. He said they have “a more comprehensive academic preparation than the typical two-year college student would have.” Another faculty member was very specific in pointing blame: “Many of the students (attending) two-year colleges in large cities come from the Urban Public Schools where they have not necessarily encountered a quality education and experienced a deep understanding of real learning as opposed to externalized and superficial learning.”

Another thought that students fail because they have not been exposed to the “academic rigor of college, or the expectations of college work.” Many thought that some students are just not ready for college work. Faculty respondents said many students arrive without knowing how to learn, without having the academic prerequisites, or without having the skill set needed to be successful. Many faculty respondents mentioned that students do not know how to be active learners and engaged in the learning process. A number of students do not realize that college requires a higher level of commitment involving a variety of learning skills, such as deep reading, purposeful study, critical thinking, or even asking for help. As one faculty member explained:

As I teach students that are most likely first generation college students, I also would suggest that they do not have an idea of what being a college student involves. And it is at this point that they become “behind in the game,” for they do not even know the steps to take, [or] the order to take, to succeed.

Other faculty respondents said students are not aware of the rigors of their chosen discipline.

Students can have difficulty in adjusting their own career expectations. Some students have/aspire to become a physician . . . but they do not realize that it is a very difficult and long road academically. Learning is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration . . . some students have not realized this yet.

Respondents saw insufficient academic skills as closely related to lack of time management skills, often mentioning the two in the same sentence. Faculty respondents said too many students do not know how to study or learn, do not know how to organize their time and set priorities, do not ask for help from their instructors or advisors, and do not use available resources, such as the library and tutors. They most likely lack critical thinking skills and other higher-level learning skills so necessary in college. In short, many of them come from high school not yet ready for college-level work and learning.

It was very hard to separate lack of organizational skills from academic preparedness as a reason for student failure. As a separate subcategory, poor time management and organizational skills ranked second as a major roadblock to student success. Faculty respondents said that students could not organize their priorities. They have work, home, social, and school obligations and cannot organize their time to accommodate all of these conflicting time demands. They do not make a plan that enables them to spend the necessary time reading, studying, attending class, completing assignments, and learning. They do not have “contingency plans” in case of illness, child care, work schedule changes, and so forth. As a result, they develop unrealistic expectations and overcommit themselves:

On the most part the students are unrealistic about the time it will require to do the assignments, readings, and problems. They work full time, have family responsibilities, take a full course load, and do not set aside enough time to concentrate on the problem at hand. They are over committed in terms of their time.

In other words, if students have not planned sufficiently to manage their time, they have not got a Plan B in place. They simply “don’t invest the amount of time required or expected” to succeed.

Several faculty members mentioned procrastination as a problem, “waiting until the one before the last to give ‘the best shot,’ forgetting grades are cumulative.” Students start asking for extra-credit assignments, what they can do to make up what they missed, and so on. In short, most respondents mentioned three major problems under this category: overcommitment (jobs, family, and school), unrealistic expectations about the time necessary to do well in college, and the inability to organize their time effectively. Once they get behind, they can no longer catch up.

Will being passionately interested in a specific and "informed" career goal change a high school student's perspective about academics that lead to that career? Will high school students connect the dots to see the bigger picture if they have a personal career goal in mind that they feel is attainable.

Lack of Effort
The next category of student-related issues, ranking third in that area, was Lack of Effort, repeated 72 times, or 12 percent of responses. This category included both Lack of effort and Poor or nonexistent work ethic as subcategories. Many faculty members were disturbed by how many students are satisfied with a grade of C or D instead of working harder to get better grades. A few faculty members stated that even when they give students opportunities to improve their grades by redoing homework, lab reports, or writing assignments, many students do not bother. Some participants stated that students do not exert enough effort and do not bother to find out, either from the instructor or fellow students, how much work is really needed to pass a given class.

Under the subcategory of Poor or nonexistent work ethic, some respondents said that students do not complete assignments but then expect teachers to let them make it up with extra-credit work. Some students expect to pass just because they attend class, and others think that doing ungraded homework is unimportant. Many believe that an open-book exam means they can learn the material while taking the exam. One respondent blamed more than the student: “Work ethic (strengthened by peer behavior AND administration acquiescence) was summarized by the notion, ‘do just enough to get by,’ which is rarely enough to just get by.”

Another said that students expect teachers to excuse multiple missed assignments and absences “based on a student’s circumstances,” which demonstrated a “diminished sense of personal responsibility.” Still another cited a much more serious problem: “They [students] may be collecting financial aid money for living expenses and have no intention of completing a course once they have received all the funds.”

Respondents said failing students come to class late and/or do not show up at all. When they do show up, they send texts or play videos during class or otherwise do not pay attention. They do not read the material before class and do not complete their assignments. Some students do not care if they fail. A few instructors stated that some students do not value education because they do not have to work to pay for it, or if they fail, they can always repeat the course. Bad study habits that worked in high school were also cited more than once; students are unable or unwilling to put effort into learning. This could be due to lack of motivation or inadequate preparation to be successful. One faculty respondent explained that many college students do not read to learn:

In my opinion students fail because they do not put in the effort needed to succeed. They only read in order to answer a question or to pass a test, instead of reading the entire assigned chapters. I have some students who never read the lectures in the online classes.

One of the faculty respondents summed up the category as a recipe for failure: “Lastly, some of our students are just not willing to work hard. Receiving an F is not enough of a deterrent for them to do all the work. They would rather play video games than do their homework, so that is what they do.”

Is lack of effort or low work ethic a character flaw or an indication the student is disconnected from what motivates them? Is it possible the student not only lacks a connection to what motivates them but also has a fear of failure that inhibits their ability to pursue goals?

Lack of Motivation or Interest
Lack of Motivation or Interest, engagement, persistence, and “not being active learners” were mentioned frequently in this survey. It ranks third overall, in terms how often it was mentioned, and it was the second most-often-mentioned student-related root-cause factor: 73 times or 12 percent of responses. This category included the following subcategories: Lack of motivation; Don’t-care attitude, or negative attitude; Lack of engagement; Lack of interest, direction, or focus; Don’t want to be in college; and Lack of passion. Some faculty respondents thought that failing students have little understanding of how their education relates to their lives. They do not know what they want in life and have no clear goals as to where they are going. If someone has no idea where they are going, it will likely be extremely difficult to get there.

Other faculty members stated that some college students might not have a real desire to be in school; they might not be ready yet. Perhaps they are being pressured by family or friends, or perhaps they are drifting in life or repeatedly changing majors. Other survey respondents said students are not motivated to do the work: “They either do not want to be in school but external forces are forcing it on them or they simply do not care.”

A few faculty respondents said that even students with passion “often lack the understanding of how specific course(s) fit within the ‘grand scheme,’ especially if they determine (rightly or wrongly) that the course(s) is not on the critical path” to their ultimate goal. Others do not realize the amount of work involved in their majors or cannot decide on a major field of study. Other faculty members said students lack direction, and that “These students attend college with little, if any, goals in mind; education means little to them due to the lack of connection between what they study and their lives.” Finally, a faculty respondent said simply that:

Students lack the passion/determination/drive for the educational goal of earning a degree. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree is a long-term goal requiring passion, determination, the drive to overcome “hurdles,” and a willingness to do “whatever it takes” to achieve their goal.

If a student comes to college with a clear vision for their future, a vision they have been focused on for at least a year of high school if not since 9th grade, if they see and recognize their talents and interests, if they have created the path for achieving their personal career goals, nothing can stop them. Hurdles become small and student engagement is self-driven.

CCfS_Venn_Diagram_time_to_graduate

The statistics are out there. We found the following to be credible references.
Fast Facts: IES NCES National Center for Education Statistics
On average, a college degree takes six years, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says, by Polifact Investigative Reporter Tom Kertscher
Digest of Education Statistics, IES, NCES National Center for Education Statistics
Web Tables Profile of 2007 - 08 First-Time Bachelor's Degree Recipients published 2012 NCES 2013.1500
Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates, Indiana University, Project for Academic Success

Here is what we know:

99% of parents state "I wish I had this when I was in high school." The other one percent didn't take the survey.

99% of students do not receive adequate or competent career coaching in high school or at college.

The average time to complete an undergraduate degree is five years and 10 months.

39% of students completed their undergraduate degree in four years.

Student debt is rising and is currently at unsustainable levels for most. Going beyond four years to complete a degree is a root cause for rising student debt.

Goal of the Career Coaching for StudentsTM program:

  • Provide students with the ability to make better, high-quality decisions.
  • Bring clarity about self, interests, talents.
  • Save students money.
  • Increase the potential for success and happiness in life and career.

More information for high school students or college students at http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net