Today’s Typical College Student

Media and popular culture perpetuate a myth about what the college experience looks like for most students, obscuring key issues.

Recently, we came across a three-year-old article from FiveThirtyEight, Shut Up About Harvard: A Focus on Elite Schools Ignores the Issues Most College Students Face that remains remarkably accurate today.  It’s all about how national media and popular culture continue to perpetuate a myth about what the college experience looks like for most students.  In fact, the article states, “less than a third of U.S. undergraduates are ‘traditional’ students in the sense that they are full-time, degree-seeking students at primarily residential four-year college.”  And, perhaps surprising to most, less than one percent of all college students attend the most selective, or elite, colleges like Harvard or Yale.  Yet, despite the fact that the majority of students don’t fit into the prevailing college student image, the media, educational institutions and the rest of us, frankly, still refer to them as “non-traditional” students.

At issue isn’t how movies portray college life, but rather that this obscures the key issues many college students – including CollegeTracks students -- face when entering college and completing their degrees.  The reality is many college students struggle to hold the pieces together, while they are juggling school, studying, work, and home responsibilities, all for the promise of a better future.  Just over half of CollegeTracks students head to two-year institutions and many of them consider transfers, which can be challenging to navigate and costly if credit hours aren’t accepted. Also, many CollegeTracks students must work at least 20 hours per week while attending school in order to pay for college and/or support their families, which presents scheduling challenges with classes and getting work done. And as the FiveThirtyEight analyses confirm, most CollegeTracks students most often choose to attend regional universities and community colleges for affordability and geography, remaining close to family and other responsibilities, while they pursue their academic interests.

With hard work, smarts, and the dedicated support of their Success coaches, three-quarters of CollegeTracks students who start at four-year colleges end up graduating vs. the average half of all students who earn bachelor’s degrees. And when compared to their low-income peers, CollegeTracks students are three to four times as likely to graduate from college.  Perhaps, if we all give more attention to today’s “typical” college student and their real trials and triumphs, we can finally begin to systematically solve the key issues they face.