BY NATALIE ACCARDI
When you are 18 years old, you are expected to know what you want to do with the rest of your life. I am 20 years old and I can barely decide between pizza or a chicken sandwich for dinner.
On Jan. 22, Dr. Gretchen Schmidt, the executive director of the Pathways Project for the American Association of Community Colleges, said we were failing community college students. She said we needed to put students on a “pathway.” Schmidt said the average student here at the college graduates with about 80 credits, if they graduate at all. According to President David Levinson, the college’s graduation rate is at 8 percent.
Yes, the numbers are dismal. However, the success of the students is not only measured with hard data. Success is measured in whether they find a viable job in their field. Success is measured in whether or not the student spent 40 plus years doing a job they despised or one that they loved.
Schmidt came in armed with data. She had statistics, graphs and plenty of examples where colleges benefitted from her help. She said her pathways program she helped to implemen would give students the structure they desperately needed. When a crowd member commented that most of the students they advised had no clue what they were doing and some students even hopped from program-to-program, she brushed it off.
Schmidt was right when she said we needed better advising. She was right when she said that students should not stumble into college without guidance. However, it is unrealistic to expect an indecisive student to know what they want to do. Putting a student on a pathway is only helpful if the student knows what path to choose.
When I was kid, I answered that question “what do you want to be when you grow up” with scarce afterthought. I would tell the amused adult that I wanted to be a doctor. If they had asked me 5 minutes later, I would have said a singer. To this day, my voice is grating. When I was in high school, I answered that question with urgency. I liked writing? Maybe a poet? I quickly changed my mind because with school, teachers and family shoving me towards adulthood, success would only be a metaphor I would write about after getting my degree in creative writing. Before I could come up with a solid plan, I was a broke, indecisive high school graduate. I opted for community college and eventually, I settled on journalism as my major. I was lucky that I ended up enjoying journalism. For many students, it is not that easy to pick a career they will stick to, let alone enjoy.
From my experience, a lot of students come to community college because they do not know what they want to do. Pushing students into choosing a career path might boost a college’s numbers, but does it do anything for the student who may have chosen a field they will not stick with in a couple years? No, but who cares? It is not like colleges are supposed to help students.
The pathways program reminds me of standardized testing. Standardized testing does not measure a student’s ability. All it does is help the school’s get more funding if their test scores are high. I guess money trumps quality education.But like I said, Hartford’s only interest is in the numbers, not the students.