No. 491


Someone once said that education is one of the few things a person is willing to pay for and not get. Keep that thought in mind, because it's central to the long-range success of a nation, a state, a community and to individuals who live in a free society. As I have been traveling around the country speaking to groups about the importance of literacy, one of the statements I always make is, "the success of a community, the economy, the standard of living and the quality of life is known." By and large, the educational level of the majority of the citizens who live there determines this. While there may be exceptions, this is the main reason a "college town" usually fares much better in times when there is a downturn in our nation's economy. When people are highly educated, they just do better, and that's a fact of life.
In our community we have three colleges, all doing well, but the University of Central Arkansas is bursting at the seams because we have a dynamic college president who is innovative, hands on, and has a passion for people in today's times getting a college education. At my invitation, Lu Hardin came to speak to our local Lions Club and he made a statement that we would all do well to think about. He said, "An individual with a college degree, over their working lifetime, can expect to earn a million dollars more than a person with a high school diploma." You need to understand that he was grading on the curve, but there is no question that education opens the doors of opportunity that many high school and even college dropouts fail to enter.
Bearing in mind what I have shared, it should be easy to see that when a person drops out of college, it hurts the individual, the community and the nation. Come to think of it, in our family tree there is only one member of our family who ever finished college. Ironically, my uncle, Dr. Bill Humphrey, recently retired from the University of Central Arkansas. He was an accounting professor. I started to college, got about 50 hours and dropped out and that is the essence of what I want to share with you today. Make no mistake, there are millions of Americans in our society today who are tremendously successful who don't have a college degree. The reason is because they never stopped learning. Personally, I have always regretted the fact that I dropped out of college, but who knows where I would be today if I had finished.
With all the benefits of getting a college education there is an alarming fact that you might do well to think about, if not for yourself, for members of your family who are coming along. I got a news release sometime back from ACT, the non-profit organization that serves millions of people in schools, colleges, professional associations, businesses and government agencies with programs and services that have one guiding purpose - to help people achieve education and career goals by providing information for life's transitions. Any high school student knows about ACT, because these people give the tests and provide scores for college entrance requirements.
The alarming news is that statistics reveal that up to 25 percent of all students who enter college drop out after the first year. And even more alarming, according to the results of a new ACT survey of officials at more than 1,000 two- and four-year colleges and universities, a high percentage of these schools have no specific plan or goals to improve student retention and degree completion. Now here is the kicker, and if you work for a college it's something you may want to think about seriously. The findings also suggest that colleges tend to put the blame for dropping out primarily on students rather than on themselves.
According to Richard L. Ferguson, ACT's chief executive officer, "It's one thing to admit students to college, it's quite another thing to retain them. Colleges spend a lot of money and effort recruiting students, but many need to do a better job of following through after they get them on campus." Here in Conway, the university I mentioned earlier has spent a lot of money on television commercials recruiting and now has more than 10,000 students, but it will be interesting to see how many of these new students drop out after the first year. I'm betting that our college president and other school officials have a plan and some goals to retain these new students.
One of the ways to retain students is to incorporate them in campus life so they don't feel isolated and lonely because they are away from home. The college can also designate a senior-level individual on campus to coordinate retention activities and then analyze student characteristics and needs and implement a formal retention program that best meets students' needs. There is much more information on these two surveys that can be found at Hope this information has been helpful in some way.
(Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)