Over the past few weeks, thousands of students across the country have graduated college—including some of my former students (YAY)—and joined the world of adults. It’s a scary, exciting time when most of us are truly on our own, though perhaps not as much as we’d like to think.
I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty independent person, but I definitely still relied on my parents pretty heavily right after graduation (and still today, though to a lesser extent I like to think). Right around the time I graduated from college, I had my parents come with me as I looked to buy myself my first car. And then I drove said car 2,000 miles away, calling home to ask for advice on everything from dinner ideas to setting up my student loan payments. I was basically like an adult, but I still had a pretty strong support network when I needed guidance or was stuck in a college mindset in terms of responsibilities.
I recognize that I am lucky, and not everyone has a support network to navigate the world, especially the financial world, after college, or even during college. That’s part of the reason why I’m totally, 100 percent in support of hands-on, invasive advising programs, especially for first-generation and/or low-income students who may not have a role model or mentor with college experience to rely on regularly throughout college. I strongly believe that these types of programs are making strides for educational equity.
And yet, it’s around graduation time that I worry that perhaps programs with so much oversight and guidance eventually do a disservice to students in the long run. Despite the immense pride I felt for my graduating students, every year I wondered if I had coached them enough to be independent. Because once they had that diploma in hand, they wouldn’t have my guidance anymore (I’d have a new batch of incoming students to devote my time to), and a reduced network of support heading into the adult world didn’t seem like a great way to start off post-college life.
Again, let me be clear—I fully support these types of programs and have first-hand experience of how this kind of support can give students the edge they need to be successful in college. But there is also a need for a balance of responsibilities in these programs, for a gradual shift in the role of the adviser as the student progresses.
High school seniors and college first years probably need more hand holding than returning college students; a gradual release of responsibility can set students up to be independent and brace them for shrunken levels of support after graduation. Even though it may be quicker to just do something yourself on behalf of a student, it is almost always beneficial in the long run to coach them through a task and give them the tools to succeed on their own.
It’s not a coincidence that gradual release and graduation share the same root, meaning step. Just as it takes hard work and many steps for a student to earn a diploma and graduate, it takes hard work and many steps for an adviser to let go. That diploma is a powerful thing, and hopefully represents not just a student’s academic accomplishments, but also a readiness to be independent and resourceful.