By Paul Fitzgerald
Post-secondary education represents perhaps the most significant act of independence for youth today next to getting a driver’s license. The environment is as far removed and potentially unforgiving as the earth is to the moon.
So the question is: “why do so many young people give up or drop out?”
“There is no one clear answer,” explains Susan McKechnie, who is the founder and owner of Fresh Careers in Burlington and Toronto, ON. “Rather, there is a multitude of causes ranging from economic, to social, to personal and even environmental.”
One must first recognize the completely new environment that post-secondary education represents. Far from a class of 35 and usually a relatively intimate relationship with your instructor you enter a theatre of up to 350 where you are, for the most part, anonymous.
In high school you often know your instructor better than you know your next door neighbor. In most cases a student is removed from that familiar social setting and placed among thousands. A traditional high school may have 2,000 students where as a post-secondary institution may have as many as 35,000. Self-awareness and self-confidence therefore become a critical prerequisite to achievement.
“High school is free and available for anyone of age and accomplishment. Attendance is a mandatory condition of acceleration. Usually, there is also a parental aspect of accountability too. Such is not the case in a post-secondary environment,” says McKechnie, who is a career coach and one deeply involved in the Ontario education system. In Toronto, ON, and across the GTA she is helping mentor and coach youth to better guide them in their career choices.
“Much like operating a vehicle, there is a high degree of self-responsibility necessary. In many cases, this in itself can be an overwhelming burden for the unprepared. Essentially, no one cares anymore about your success or failure,” she adds.
That in itself puts an enormous burden of responsibility on the uninitiated. In literal terms, if no one else cares why should I? Often, in the case of residency the social adaptation itself is often conducive to failure. Left to your own devices often leads to the play now, work later mentality.
The natural desire to be socially involved surpasses the desire to achieve. Academic failure is a natural consequence, she indicates.
Then there is the simple economics of post-secondary education. Facing a potentially staggering debt load upon graduation with little or no hope of obtaining employment in the field of choice is discouraging enough for some. This situation calls to the fact that many youths are in general programs with no clearly delineated end goal or result.
But the failure for students is not necessarily one of personal responsibility or accountability. It is a fundamental lack of preparedness from the secondary school environment. You most likely will not get your driver’s license if you are not properly trained and skilled. The essential core competencies for post-secondary success are not simply academic, but they are part of a necessary lifestyle preparation that is sadly lacking in the secondary school environment.
Youth in pursuit of higher education need a sound, practical introduction to the world ahead of them. At the risk of mixing metaphors, imagine a soldier being given a uniform and a rifle and flown into a hostile environment with no practical training or preparation. The outcome is fairly predictable.
Post-secondary education mandates the three fundamental values of dedication, determination and discipline.
The training and skill to recognize the difference lies at the core of achievement in a post-secondary world. Practical, useful and targeted education on how to learn is required for the majority of young people as part of the development of maturity and self-responsibility.
“What is lacking in the secondary school process is lack of fundamental life skills training,” says McKechnie. “The absence of that guidance and direction will usually lead to an inevitable and unfavorable conclusion.”