Shifting academic expectations
Many students come into college having received regular, if not daily assessment and feedback on their academic abilities and therefore have a solid understanding of what it means to be below average, average, good, or great at the K-12 level. My experience as a U-Engage instructor provided me with a number of experiences that made me think about and react to the complexities of addressing the changing expectations that students face once they come to college. First of all, it is extremely hard to communicate how a college A is different from a high school A or how expectations for quality of work are different at the college level. I did my best to create easy to understand rubrics for papers, provide clear expectations in verbal and written form, remind students of upcoming deadlines, and offer assistance in anyway possible. With that being said, the first time that students contacted me regarding class was after they had gotten their mid-term papers back and were unsatisfied with their grades. In many respects I was quite surprised by the range of quality I saw in students’ work as well. While some people had taken the time to write thoughtful, in-depth papers, it seemed like many had spent very little time on them and had not looked at the rubric at all and as such they needed to be graded down. Of course, the grading process was quite problematic: on the one hand U-Engage is about bridging the gap between high school and college and providing students with a comfortable environment to make a successful transition. On the other hand, it is a college class and we would be doing students a disservice to set lower expectations just to ensure their success.
While I hesitate to say that there is nothing that college administrators can do to lessen the challenge of these higher expectations, I do feel like student often need to go through their own hard knocks before they complete understand the amount of energy they need to put into college level studies. Summer bridge programs, AP courses, high school honors programs, etc. can do their part to raise academic expectations gradually and therefore better prepare students for college, but ultimately each student will face this challenge at their own time. What we can do as instructors and administrators is provide and market resources (academic success coaches, writing centers, residence hall tutoring programs, grading rubrics, office hours, etc.) that can help students once they recognize that they are unprepared to meet the new challenges they are facing. We must also do our best to acknowledge this transitional issue and discuss it with our students. They need to know that the bar has been raised, that it will mean a significant change in how much energy they must put into their education, and that we have the utmost confidence that with time, energy and resources they can succeed.