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Education Science

Disadvantaged Students Stay In College If They're Told Everyone Struggles (arstechnica.com) 206

An anonymous reader shares an Ars Technica report: Lower-income and minority college students often have trouble sticking with higher education. But past studies have indicated they would be less likely to drop out of school if they receive appropriate counseling once they start experiencing academic problems. A new study published in PNAS demonstrates that if students receive this kind of intervention prior to college enrollment and during their first year at college, they are more likely to avoid having academic trouble in the first place. And the counseling can be done over the Internet. The counseling involves letting students know that it is common for students to struggle with the transition to college and that this transition will get easier with time. This is known as a "lay theory intervention."
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Disadvantaged Students Stay In College If They're Told Everyone Struggles

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  • Tell them lies (Score:2, Interesting)

    Everyone does not struggle. There are reasons you have difficulty--not that you're too stupid for college, or that the next guy has a better brain; it's that you're using the wrong methods, and you're entering an unfamiliar environment.

    The brain, first and foremost, is an energy-hungry organ. To minimize energy usage, it restructures to readily follow the most common set of actions. Overriding this--self-activation or response-inhibition--requires first formulating a plan in the prefrontal cortex, the

    • I don't think everyone struggles with academics, though some would argue that if you aren't then you need a bigger load or a more difficult program. But there are many other things that can cause people to struggle. There is your budget; roommates; not punching some asshole who desperately deserves it; whether to spend the weekend with the spelunking club or the skydiving club; do I go out with the blonde or the slightly less attractive redhead (okay, that's not a struggle, it's the redhead), when should
      • there are many other things that can cause people to struggle. There is your budget; roommates; not punching some asshole who desperately deserves it; whether to spend the weekend with the spelunking club or the skydiving club; do I go out with the blonde or the slightly less attractive redhead (okay, that's not a struggle, it's the redhead), when should I stop drinking in order to avoid getting my face written on with a sharpie (or worse).

        That's stress. Stress is normal and healthy. Too much and unhealthy stress is often called "strain"; struggling implies failure to thrive.

        You're not struggling just because life is hard; you're struggling because you can't keep up with life. For problems which are not intractable, we can fix the root cause.

        I don't think everyone struggles with academics, though some would argue that if you aren't then you need a bigger load or a more difficult program.

        Don't increase load to failure; increase load to capacity.

    • Success in not necessarily about structure - I had less than zero structure studying and I still did fine academically.

      That's not to say it would not help some others, or that it would not have improved my own work somewhat - I'm just saying structure is not required for everyone, and I suspect for some people such structure may be counter-productive.

      • Some people have superior internal strategies--I'm one of those people; I always did great without structure because my brain internally dissects everything. Of particular note, I don't deal well with inconsistent data: when I have new knowledge, I compare it to all other knowledge I possess, and resolve any inconsistencies. This has lead to reasoning out information I haven't yet been given, or identifying when someone gave me a simplification of a concept which is just plain incorrect. The effect is

    • Everyone does not struggle. There are reasons you have difficulty--not that you're too stupid for college, or that the next guy has a better brain; it's that you're using the wrong methods, and you're entering an unfamiliar environment.

      Sometimes. Sometimes it is a lack of structured study skills or inability to manage time efficiently.

      But there are also distinctive other problems that tend to be more common among "disadvantaged students," particularly those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Number one is probably the fact that many of these students simply have fewer resources than other college students. They are more likely to have to work part-time (even multiple part-time jobs) while taking classes, just to pay for school.

      • Number one is probably the fact that many of these students simply have fewer resources than other college students. They are more likely to have to work part-time (even multiple part-time jobs) while taking classes, just to pay for school. They are more likely to have more complicated family responsibilities at a younger age, which also sucks up a lot of time.

        I *know* I can fix that.

        Other people depend on innate abilities that they don't have to think about. (And when I say "innate," I don't necessary mean they were born with it: I also include things that for whatever reason a talented kid may have figured out in processing the world when he/she was very young, and it's become so ingrained in the very way they think and process information that they are completely unaware of how different it is from other people.)

        I'm one of those people, although I've taken it to an unhealthy extreme in some places. A *very* unhealthy extreme. It doesn't stack up to structured skills, but it does make people think I'm some kind of super-brain.

        Getting my superior mind powers to fall over for the tiniest reason is pretty trivial. By far the most severe is the black box effect: I use an extreme form of analogical thinking which includes defining analogical boundaries (i.e. I specifically determine how t

    • One would hope that " letting students know that it is common for students to struggle with the transition" does not mean "grin and bear it", but is more along the lines of your advice to find better, smarter, more productive methods more suitable to their new environment and workload.
      • I hasten to add that "better, smarter, more productive methods" may be COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from person to person. That's part of the verb "find". I have seen different approaches work for different people, and I'm sure there are more.
        • Different approaches work because of different internal translation layers and habitual thinking behaviors. All people learn best the same way; to cope with not being told how the brain functions and how learning works, people find various strategies which produce similar results.

          Tailored approaches can lead to inefficient learning and, as a result, to the observation that some students are just dumber than other, more brilliant students. All students appear to learn best by adjusting the study strategy

  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @10:37AM (#52281213)

    When I transferred from community college to university in 1994, I applied to the Equal Opportunity Program. Being a poor white boy who was the first person in his family to go to college, I got accepted into the program. The Latino guidance counselor told me not to bother with the tutoring resources, because, you know, I was white, and didn't need that much help, and to come back next year to renew the EO&P contract.

    My first year in the university ended with my girlfriend and I breaking up, leaving me depress and on academic probation. I got called into the EO&P office to explain my situation to a different guidance counselor. She demanded to know why I listened to that "idiot" from the year before and not follow the program as laid out in the contract. I pointed out the contract language that specifically stated that I must do everything that the guidance counselors told me to do. That took the wind out of her sails. Either way, I got kicked out of the program and the university. Ironically, the academic probation policy changed the following year because 10% of the student body was at risk of being kicked out (typically, it's 3%), which was too much money for the university to let walk away, and many of those students stayed.

    I never went back to the university. A decade later, I went back to community college to learn computer programming and made the president's list for maintaining a 4.0GPA in my major. That was the beginning of my technical career.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      I'm mixed race but look white. Name gives it away. Anyway, I was put in remedial reading class due to an undiagnosed medical issue. I was reading to the teacher one day and he stopped me, because it was obvious I was bored. He asked me what sort of thing I liked to read at home, and I told him I was half way through Lord of the Rings and could I bring that in. He just stared at me dumbfounded for a bit, and then suggested some other uninteresting kids book. I was maybe 9 or 10 at the time I think.

      That medic

      • He just stared at me dumbfounded for a bit, and then suggested some other uninteresting kids book.

        I had a similar incident with a library summer reading program as a kid. Read ten picture books during the summer. I did — in one day. The librarian called me a liar. She told me to fetch the books and recite each book word-for-word from memory. Most of these books had five words per picture page and 20 pages per book. I recited ~1,000 words perfectly. That made her madder. She held on to my reading certificate until the end of the program I would later graduate from the eighth grade with a college-l

      • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

        Shame. I spent a whole bunch of recesses actively discussing the Lord of the Rings and other fantasy novels with my sixth grade teacher. We had a never-ending argument about whether Lloyd Alexander's Fair Folk were elves, dwarves, both, or something else. One of the most inspirational teachers I had, up through college.

        • One of the most inspirational teachers I had, up through college.

          I had an English teacher in college who invited students to come to class on a Saturday morning for extra help. I showed up with three or four others. She put up a sentence and asked why the grammar was correct. I took a risk and told her it felt right, as I didn't know how to explain it otherwise. Grammar Nazis always punished me for not knowing the rules of grammar. She went with my feeling and built upon it. When the semester was over, I knew my grammar rules.

    • You're a white male looking for help. You ARE a minority in that no programs exist to help you or cater for you. There's no minimum quotas for you, and no companies out there going out of their way to fast track you into their programs.

  • Just major in EE, where you get your ass kicked, and 2/3 of the students really do flunk out after 2 years. Then they won't feel so bad.
    • I won't say you're wrong... because you're not. In the Engineering program at the university I went to, EE 221 was required for _ALL_ Engineering majors.

      At the main campus (this was a university with 'satellite' campuses), it was taught in a huge lecture hall, 200+ students in there per class session, and if you fell behind, you were left behind. Roughly 15% of the class dropped it by the final drop/add day (either to take it next semester, or they would outright change majors), and roughly another 15% fail

      • by sconeu ( 64226 )

        When I was at WUSTL (early '80s), EE 280 (?) was the washout class for engineers. Everyone who was an engineer had to take it.

        For science majors, Organic Chemistry was often the washout class...

        Can't remember the others...

      • by Jaime2 ( 824950 )
        You were part of one of the more selective programs. I got an ME degree in 1993. Every year there was a weed-out class that nearly half of the students failed. Typical freshman class is 6000 and the university typically graduates 600 per year. Our idea of a big lecture hall was 500+ students. 200+ was typical for second year classes. By the third year, nearly everything was taught in 30 person or smaller rooms due to fewer students and those students branching out into specialties.
        • My upper division math classes (real analysis, topology, differential geometry, calculus of variations) regularly had about a dozen students. And a quarter of those where grad students.
    • by deKernel ( 65640 )

      Holy crap, were you my instructor for the Into to E.E. class I had to take in '87? He told everyone to look to the left and right and say good-bye to them because they wouldn't be there at graduation. Low and behold, he was right. We started out with 120 and graduated 30.

    • Hahahaha. In my freshman year engineering programming class, there were fewer than fifty students out of a class of 300. The teacher was very good, but the majority of students were not prepared to put in the amount of effort required and he was replaced. Then most students passed, but eventually dropped out over the years. And then there was freshman physics class where 30% was an 'A' when graded on the curve.
  • by decipher_saint ( 72686 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @10:46AM (#52281281)

    I'm visually impaired, when I went into the Computer Systems Technology program at NAIT they hadn't really dealt with a visually impaired person before. The committee running the program at the time recommended I take semesters in halves so I wouldn't get overloaded. I took this advice and started during the summer intake. That first half semester was a bitch, they didn't have materials to help me along and the 13" monitors they had were brutal for my vision. Anyway, I got OK grades in most classes, but nothing great, in the introduction to programming I passed with a 65% (bare minimum pass) but I felt like it just wasn't for me. The instructor there at the time took me aside during one of the last days before the semester closed and told me that I had a lot of potential and that I should give it another try.

    The next half-semester I re-took the introduction to programming, by now the program had purchased 17" monitors and my grade shot up 30%. Maybe it was finally having the equipment I needed, maybe it was taking the course for the second time but I know it was the words of encouragement that made me do labs as soon as I got them, try to work harder in other courses too, connecting the dots between them.

    After that second half-semester I decided to go to normal semesters like everyone else and excelled. Turned out I was naturally gifted for problem solving and all sorts of other things that I didn't really think I was capable of.

    Anyway I graduated in 1999 with a love of programming and a lot of confidence. Sometimes I wonder where I would have been now if I hadn't been given that little boost of encouragement from a person I respected, it's not easy to want to achieve things when you are a "minority" particularly when you have a disability because the deck is stacked against you, but then somebody tells you it doesn't matter and maybe the first time in my life I really believed it.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @10:57AM (#52281393)
    Is that it's hard to put your life on hold for 4 more years. You need a lot of money to do that. The kids work hard and that's the trouble. They get part time jobs that turn into full time and before long they're falling behind in their studies. Then they get blamed for being lazy... It doesn't help that a good percentage of the population is activity trying to keep birth control away from then either.
    • Same thing happens with kids who have money. Three friends from high school worked in the same job for years and had been promoted to high enough paying management positions while still in college that they decided that getting a degree wasn't worth it. I thought it was kind of sad because they were in no way what I would consider great job. Also same thing happened with a lot of interns I worked with. $45,000 [salary.com] a year is a lot of money when most of your peers are making 1/4 of that.
  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @11:05AM (#52281465)

    The only advantage I remember from college was the economic advantages some kids had.

    It doesn't make more economically advantaged kids smarter, and many of them squander this advantage partying, but they also don't face the soul-sucking grind of a job or the soul-sucking money problems that come with it. And the job of course takes hours away, sometimes leaving you amotivated to study or flat-out with less hours to study.

    None of this means it can be done, but it does make it harder. Harder still for those occasional emotional crises that arise in college -- a couple of bad grades, social problems, etc.

    • It's not wealthy vs not wealthy, it's the typical middle class up vs poor minorities from communities that don't typically attend university.

      Motivation and hard work comes from a belief that you can succeed. I was atrocious at the start of my first year programming course, but fortunately I was an intelligent middle class white guy, it was really obvious I could succeed with sustained effort because I could see a lot of intelligent middle class white guys with the same upbringing who had succeeded.

      If I was

    • Yeah, assuming you don't have to worry about money is a big advantage in university. You can eat the right foods to help your body function properly. You don't have to work so you can devote more time to your studies.If you have extra money you can even pay for tutoring and other kinds of extra help to make sure your marks are good. You can live closer to campus so you have less travel time, which means that you can sleep or study more. Having a computer with a decent internet connection can also help thin

  • Which is tell us that nobody's going to be there for us every step of the way at college like at high school, that we have to prepare and take initiative as much as possible, that we have to think ahead of what we want to accomplish and pick the right courses, and that This Is Real Life so we'd better take it seriously and not slack off or fuck it up because nobody will be there to pick up the pieces. Well, to someone with anxiety issues and a mother who was saying at 18 I better be ready to move out, I did

  • If you tell college freshmen you're going to apply a "lay theory intervention" to them, you might find them a little disappointed with the result when you just talk.

  • NOT coddling them.
    Not doing this stupid "Everyone gets a trophy!"
    Not trying to boost self-esteem with no effort required on the part of the kid ("Aw, you failed to say the alphabet, you're still smart, here's a prize for failing!")

  • Some people just feel better when they learn that someone else is also doing badly. Studies have been made and it has been proven again and again.This new study, again, supports it.

    Most famous empirical, yet cruel real life exercise took place in Soviet Russia in 1920-1930. They were building socialism, and anybody who was successful (irrespective of whether individual was loyal or not - that did not matter) was under the risk to be reported as a bourgeois government hater. Millions and millions people were

  • Look at this from a macroeconomic point of view. Especially in mid-tier large state universities (like the one I went to a million years ago,) it is super-common to have students fail out after their first year for a number of reasons. Some weren't meant to be there but get pushed in by the "everyone must go to college" rhetoric. Some fall prey to the Greek life or other constant party atmosphere and just neglect doing any work. Some aren't emotionally ready to handle the huge shot of independence they get. Whatever the reason, many (most?) of these students are paying for their education at least partially with loans that must be paid back regardless of the outcome. Going to college and not getting the degree is way worse than not going -- you get no benefits career-wise and are stuck with lifelong debt. Wouldn't it make sense to provide some help and encouragement, especially to a population that really is at a disadvantage?

    The state university system I graduated from has something like this - extra help, remedial classes, etc. for truly disadvantaged students to try to give them a leg up, and keep them there once they've made it in. And they need it; going where I went, as a freshman you really are an anonymous number. It's a whole lot like dealing with a state agency in terms of personal attention and "customer service." It wasn't until I got into the end of sophomore year in a relatively small department that I started to lose that sense of anonymity. Going from a 4,000 student random freshman class to about 300 focused chemistry students with good faculty support was a big change. If I had been in the engineering school (~8,000 students) or business (10,000+) that would've been way different. Point being, Joe Random Freshman in a 300-person lecture class might be having a hard time, but have very little in the way of avenues to get help. I do feel that part of the value I got out of my degree was learning to do things for myself, deal with crappy bureaucracies without throwing up my hands, etc. It's allowed me to work for big companies with stupid rules and advance pretty far in my career compared to people who just whine and complain when things won't bend to their will.

    Elite universities may have a different problem, in that you have people in the top 5% of their high school classes merging into a population where _everyone_ graduated at the top of their class. That said, elite universities have plenty of support in place...they just don't let you fall out of the club once you've made it in. Having that Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, whatever degree qualifies you for the rarified worlds of investment banking, management consulting and other professions that only hire Ivy League/elite university grads as part of their culture. After that, Easy Street for life, If you're smart, and work really hard in high school, the tuition you pay at any of those places is a worthwhile investment. If you're driven but not rich or super brilliant, going through the state system is still a very valid way to go.

  • ...just keep digging. Lie to yourself that eventually you'll get yourself out and everything will be ok.

    • I never listen to people like you. I was out of work for two years (2009-10), underemployed for six months (working 20 hours per month), and filed for Chapter Seven bankruptcy. For over two years, hiring managers told me I was overqualified for minimum wage jobs and recruiters told me I was uneamployable for anything else. I never listened to them. It took me five years to dig my way out of that hole.
      • Totally different situation. You did exactly what you're supposed to. Not everyone is capable of completing college. To lie to them and tell them everyone has the same trouble that they do is not the correct solution. Those people will just just out a year later even worse off financially and mentally then they would have had they not been lied to.

        • Not everyone is capable of completing college.

          I was the first person in my family to go to college. My parents did everything but kick me out of the house to prevent me from going to college, especially since I never went to high school. To them, I was a failure. I spent my first year collecting bottles and cans around campus to pay for books and classes. During my second year, I got a job at the college bookstore that I stayed at for three years. My parents didn't accept the fact that I was a "success" until I graduated from community college.

          Those people will just just out a year later even worse off financially and mentally then they would have had they not been lied to.

          If this

  • The elimination of skin color preferences in admission would be a much more effective way of helping underrepresented minorities excel in college (a college where they are on equal footing with everyone else).

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser

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