Student Engagement, Student Success: Activity Is Not Productivity


Students stay busy, but most are not successful. How do we keep them both active and engaged in things that will enable them to make it in life after college?

Last year I had an invigorating day with faculty at a university near Dallas. During our time together, we discussed two themes that preoccupy school administrators as much as any:

  1. Student Engagement 
  2. Student Success

In our morning session, one instructor shared a note he’d recently received from a student. The young man had decided to drop out of school. Here’s what he said:

“People are constantly asking me what I am going to do after graduation — so I tell them my plans. I just hope I am still on the right track, and that I haven’t pushed the time limit up too much… because I can’t stand school anymore. I am tired of homework, busy work and class work. It’s all becoming a blur. All I know is that when I had a job it was easy. All I did was learn what I had to do, I did my job and I got paid for it. And I had one boss. Here I have five “bosses” (my professors) and I have to pay to learn. It really p****s me off when teachers are not truthful with the students when it comes to life outside of college. Most kids think that they’ll get out and have a great job immediately, pay off their school debt and get married right out of college, because that’s what is supposed to happen. It makes me angry that it’s so different… but I guess this school feels the need to keep the students happy so they can make their money. I just need to be done with school and never go back. I can learn without having to pay someone to teach me.”

I wish this student’s sentiment were an isolated case. But it isn’t. According to a Noel-Levitz report, 96% of first year students say they will finish college no matter what the cost. In actuality, less than 50% do so even in six years.  Somehow there is a huge gap between expectations and reality. Students stay busy, but most are not successful. They are active, but not engaged with the things that will enable them to make it in life after college. The transition from backpack-to-briefcase is more and more difficult.

Student Engagement and Student Success
These terms change — student engagement and success — but their importance never does. The chasm that exists between adults and students troubles me. Specifically, here are my concerns:

  1. The gap between the way students learn and the way adults teach. 
  2. The gap between students’ expectations and the way life really is. 
  3. The gap between pleasurable world of adolescence and the pressurized world of adulthood. 
  4. The gap between the instant world of technology and the grinding world of adult responsibility.

These are issues we, at Growing Leaders, are determined to help leaders, teachers, coaches, employers, pastors, and parents confront effectively. As we do this, we’ll have to address the engagement and the success issues.

Student success initiatives must address the three biggest needs of young people today:

  1. Emotional Intelligence – Self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, and relationship management.
  2. Character development  Self-discipline, personal values, emotional security, and personal identity
  3. Leadership perspective  Possessing vision, problem solving skills, priority setting skills, and execution skills.

Student engagement initiatives must address how students best learn:

  1. Images – This generation grew up visual. Images are the language of the 21st century not words.
  2. Conversations ­– Pictures are worth a thousand words; students want to upload their ideas and feelings.
  3. Experiences — Following a conversation about an image, students long to experience ideas firsthand.
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