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‘Upskilling’ Your Senior Can Promote College Success

This fall, thousands of college students will leave their homes and move into the dorms, forging new identities and creating lives for themselves. Parents have invested in countless hours of academic development in their children – everything from tutors to AP courses, summer camps, and paying for extra-curricular activities. Yet, even with all this effort, a quarter of students will not return after that first year, and just over one-third will never complete their degree. But why?

There’s nothing more upsetting to parents (and college instructors like me) than to see bright and motivated students lose their way and abandon their studies. In retrospect, I think many of my lost students could have benefitted from ‘upskilling’ in ways that both parents and educators often overlook as our young adults begin their first year of independence. This is an exciting but also very confusing time for our kids.

What is Upskilling?

Upskilling is the latest buzz term in offices and on college campuses alike. It’s a relatively new term frequently used to indicate that someone is taking steps to “up their game” within their current roles. Upskilling at work might include acquiring micro-credentials or adding essential competencies that make one more competitive. At the university level, we’ve started talking a lot about upskilling with our students, too. We encourage them to join professional organizations and acquire paid internships in addition to the degree. In essence, we are training them to move beyond minimum expectations and broaden themselves in ways that will ultimately contribute to their success outside of the university.

High School Students Can Benefit from Upskilling

It’s easy to think of upskilling high schoolers in much the same way as the aforementioned groups. Early on, I thought of my own kids’ college preparation as tied almost exclusively to scholarly and extracurricular achievement. While such activities are important, I’ve noticed among my freshmen that academic abilities are not the primary skills that carry them through that first year. In fact, it appears first-year success has a lot more to do with social fluency than it does with academic proficiency.

Conversations about feeling isolated, cyber-harassment, navigating a whole new level of peer pressure, and not knowing how to complete or prioritize tasks are frequent topics when a freshman comes to me with a withdrawal form.  Though poor academics are usually tied to these factors somehow, it’s generally not because the student is incapable of the work. By engaging with their child on critical issues before they leave home, parents can help their new college students map out a road to success.

Key Ways to Upskill Your Senior

•          Discuss online fluency:  The online presence our kids have enters a new level of significance during their college years. In nearly every freshman course I teach, I address the “Three P’s” of social media with my students. From here on out, everything they do online should be considered Public, Permanent, and now, part of a Portfolio that future employers may use to discern suitability for employment. With parental controls and minor-status protections long gone, students must understand that all content can be tagged, recorded, screenshot, and cross-shared across platforms.

•          Revisit “the talks:” Especially about alcohol. Please don’t stop communicating about this with your kids! It’s critical to be informed about what’s happening on college campuses right now with borgs, which is the new variety of binge drinking. Discuss with your child how to set personal limits and where to go if they need assistance. Not unrelated to drinking, parents may want to update “the sex talk” with their teens. This might include new information such as what constitutes date rape, why sober consent is necessary, and what campus resources are available so they can be prepared to make healthy choices about their bodies.

•          Review cheating 101: Plagiarism is an act that carries far more significant consequences at the college level, and parents and students must discuss the possible outcome of such violations. Topics to cover include contract cheating (paying an online service for assignment completion), self-plagiarism (submitting the same paper for more than one course), and Artificial Intelligence (such as ChatGPT). University professors have access to tools used to detect such missteps, which may be a new experience for students. It might be worth checking in with your child to be sure they know how to access proper writing and citation resources. Interestingly, one thing I’ve noted is that it is often not the students who are struggling academically who end up turning to cheating. Instead, it’s those who are distracted and have fallen behind in their studies. These students become overwhelmed and desperate at the end of the semester, primarily due to time management issues.

•          Encourage time management: Quite honestly, this is the biggest stumbling block to completing the first year of college. Students no longer have days designed to mirror the workplace, where they must be present at a specific time and for a set number of hours each week. Their schedules are highly fluid, with ample blocks of free time that they are expected to manage independently, and they are often split between studying, working, and socializing. It’s helpful to visualize with your child in advance what their days might look like and just how much time they can expect to dedicate to each component of their day.

As kids prepare for college, parents should celebrate all of the hard work they have put into preparation for the next phase. Also, take a moment to consider if they might benefit a little from upskilling. By helping your senior acquire a set of practical skills before the first day of classes, parents can provide some inoculation against the high drop-out rate and provide their kids with some extra support for a successful first year at college.

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