Rethinking Education: Improving College Completion Rates

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This article by Omar Romandia, Student Services Specialist for the ACE Program, will explore the topic of improving college completion rates.

What comes to mind when you think of education? Do you picture an eager child making his/her way into a classroom on their first day of class? Do you picture a first-generation college student at their graduation ceremony, wiping away their tears as they look back at their parents, who worked tirelessly to get them through school? Or maybe you picture a single parent going back to school to help support their children? All these scenarios, and countless more, are included in the realm of education and the reality is far bleaker.

Arizona is ranked 45th in the nation for education and our graduation numbers, not to mention college completion rates, also reflect this unfathomable statistic. We are living in a time where the world around us is changing at a rapid rate, with issues that require innovative minds to help resolve them while also paving way for the future.

Fostering a Home Environment That Promotes Student Success

For many first-generation college students, like myself, the concept of college is drilled in the minds of young ones like an alarm bell ringing promptly at 6:00am. Yet, the path to college and what to study can be a daunting undertaking for many students. Within this, establishing a notion that home environment has so much to do with student success is also important. Sometimes this includes breaking cultural norms that are common with today’s first-generation college-bound youth.

One of my colleagues conducts a workshop for students and parents that provides fascinating insights into the inner workings of the household and how it can be adapted to fit the student’s needs. Members of the family are split into two different groups. In the first group, students are asked how they feel their parents provide a healthy home environment for their studies. In the second group, parents are asked how they provide a healthy home environment for their student. Then families are brought together to discuss their results. This not only encourages a healthy dialogue about a pressing matter, but it also helps foster an environment that promotes learning while also building cultural capital that the entire family can benefit from.

Facilitating The Trajectory to Success

Considering the population of students that we serve, there are many unknowns when it comes to college. How to get started, who to reach out to, what to do, and how to make the most of one’s time in college or university are just a handful of questions that consume the minds of first-generation college-bound students.

The social, mental, and physical struggles that students face can take a toll when confronted with a challenge in college, especially when there is a feeling that there is no one there to reach out to – no lifeline. It’s important to note that everyone’s trajectory to success is unique, traversing countless obstacles, experiences, and opportunities along the way. Yet, it is those same experiences that bring about a better thought or idea of what the future may hold.

A mentor once shared with me that, “it’s better to know what it is that you don’t want to do than to know what it is that you do want to do.” Trial and error not only brings us closer to our objective but also provides life experience that makes us better human beings.

Building Bridges With Students, Instructors & Professionals

The act of building bridges with students, instructors, and professionals that share a common passion for student success can positively influence the future trajectory of a student. Through the use of shadowing experiences, internships, and the partnership of mentors, students obtain individualized support and guidance that can be catered to their needs.

Perspective can often mean the difference between struggle and opportunity or between anger and compassion. Unyielding support and flexibility are two traits that we should practice more of in an effort to provide students with the confidence that it’s okay to not know, to ask questions, and to be resourceful. Educators must play the role of problem solvers in the lives of students that face numerous impediments that conflict with getting ahead in a class, career, and in life.  

Early Invention to Provide Adequate Support & Guidance

Early invention is a practice that can serve to be exemplary to families from all over the valley. It’s one thing to utter the words, “go to college,” and another to provide a pathway that families can follow from elementary school to high school, and upwards to college. Providing cultural capital in the ways of workshops and classes for the entire family is a method in which preparedness can take place long before a child sets foot on a college campus.

Much like the old saying, “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes the entire family to catapult a student to college. Michelangelo is quoted to have said that he did not craft exquisite sculptures from nothing, but rather that he helped chip away at the superfluous material to expose what was already hidden beneath the stone. Similarly, there is a dreamer inside all of us that must be carefully crafted into reality given the adequate support and guidance.  

Rethinking Education

Education needs reform in order to improve college completion rates. There is an interesting narrative that compares raising a child in two different environments: a garden and a carpentry shop. A carpentry shop is a place where the environment can be carefully monitored. Specific materials are gathered, cut, and crafted to create a masterpiece that can be utilized in a variety of settings. In a garden, however, weather cannot be controlled, and one can only hope for good soil in an effort to yield a fruitful growing season. The beauty of the garden is that while the intent is to grow something specific, in our case attain an education, the possibility of growth extends far beyond what was planted.

Similarly, while on our mission to educate the leaders of tomorrow, it is also important to help them develop a toolset that they can use in all walks of life. This, in turn, will empower them to take on challenges and embark on journeys that can help them solve problems that can and will impact the future of humanity. In my time working in education, initiatives such as these have existed in small pockets, scattered throughout the valley. We must unite for a common cause that is to help students, from all walks of life, attain the education that they deserve.

Omar Romandia

Omar Romandia is a DACA recipient who has worked in education for over 7 years. He attended Arizona State University and has a background in Economics, Information Technology, and the non-profit sector. He is passionate about helping students and empowering low-income families in their pursuits to provide better lives for their children.

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Rethinking Education: Improving College Completion Rates

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