The Art of Scaring

In my previous blog post, I discussed the lack of information students receive ┬áregarding the risks and rewards that come with a collegiate partnership. In Dr. McCoy’s response to my post, she asked a very intriguing question: “how might colleges and universities communicate the risks and rewards without scaring folks or making them tune out (like folks do often when asked to read the fine print in contracts and the like)?”

I never stopped to wonder if I truly wanted to know the risks of the job market and shortcomings of a college experience. However, after much consideration, ┬áI confirmed that I do want to know exactly what I’m getting into. Furthermore, I think it’s only fair that all other students know too. To address the issue of uninformed consent however, I believe growth in the area lies in the manner that it’s stated.

Ian Chipman’s article, “The Power of Realistic Expectations”, describes a movement on Stanford’s college campus to alter the tone of their letters alerting students know they are on academic probation. In making the letter more focused on the resources available to struggling students’ rather than a harsh assertion of the problem, students were more willing to put the work in and get their grades up. Those who received the first, almost shameful letter were more likely to drop out of college, and in doing so end their academic partnership. Although the tone of the original letter fulfilled the college’s duty by alerting the student of their academic status, they now do so in a way that’s much less “scary.” In short, the institution says, “hey, things aren’t going great in your classes right now, but we’re here for you and here’s how we’ll help you fix it.” They even provide encouraging narratives from students who were in their position and made it out of probation into good standing.

Why can’t the same principle be applied when it comes to the “scary parts” of any student’s general academic partnership? Maybe we just need someone to say, “this is what we hope you’ll get out of this college experience, but these are some alternative possibilities that can happen. That’s the reality. And we’re here for you if it does!” We might even need to hear it from graduates themselves, too.

Perhaps the greatest factor in the agreement to partnership is in fact this support system. It’s fitting to use the word “scary” when hearing of the very real risks of any partnership one may consider, especially one as impactful and defining as college. I do believe that solving this issue of uninformed consent is something that must be done. If we take a page from Chipman’s book, it seems providing a sense of security and support throughout their experience can do so without turning students away from college completely.

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