Magazine article University Business

Failure to Launch: College Completion Challenges Not to Be Overlooked

Magazine article University Business

Failure to Launch: College Completion Challenges Not to Be Overlooked

Article excerpt

THE RECENTLY CONCLUDED holiday break wasn't much fun for those very bright but struggling freshmen students who got their first taste ever of academic failure.

These students were often tops in their high school classes and had high SAT scores. They're now working hard but can't seem to get any traction. They may struggle to wake up in time for class, leave long-term assignments until it's too late, and neglect to complete work without the kinds of reminders and cues their parents used to provide. Unlike in high school, where performance is closely tracked and notice is quickly taken, it may not be until the end of the semester that the final reckoning comes due--failing grades and academic probation or suspension.

These are not isolated cases. There is a large, growing group of bright kids whose brains aren't wired right for a demanding college routine. Strategies and supports that worked while living at home are not adequate to the new demands that college places on the executive functions of the brain.


According to current theories of the brain, executive functions are located in areas of the frontal lobe and serve as a kind of orchestra conductor, regulating other areas that control planning, goal-setting, language production, and motor activity. They operate beyond the control of will and motivation, although the behavior that results when they fail to operate effectively is often judged in moral terms.

Researchers believe executive function capabilities vary widely. Many also believe that, in about 10 percent of cases, the difficulties are severe enough to be classified as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, a learning difference increasingly seen as lying in the self-regulation systems of the brain. But even those without an AD/HD diagnosis can and do have significant challenges, especially in a demanding academic environment.


Executive functions are challenged in any significant life transition. While research is not yet conclusive, many believe first-generation college students, or those from different cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds, experience the same kind of executive function challenges that students with AD/HD face in college. …

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