At the recent NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Conference there was a panel discussion on the future of education. The panel was made up of current and past presidents of colleges and universities. It was an informative conversation covering many topics including the real and sometimes disruptive changes that are taking place at the college level. Many of the changes that are taking place, or that will be taking place, are long overdue and will better meet the needs of students living in this century. These changes on the college level will accelerate the necessary changes needed in our high schools and lower schools. (For another blog)
For this blog, I want to focus on the panel’s views of today’s students entering college. Some of what they shared is not new. It is not new that many more children and teenagers suffer from anxiety than ever before. The panelists had all experienced, at their respective colleges and universities, a significant rise of anxiety and depression among college students. They attribute this, in part, to the over-structured lives of school children. They believe parents tend to overschedule their grade school children with too many activities and encourage their high school children to involve themselves in too many activities. In addition, parents tend to over-manage their children’s lives and intervene much too often in an effort to protect them from any failure, discomfort, or hurt.
These students come to college unaccustomed to making decisions on their own, inexperienced at prioritizing their time, and unable to live without instant gratification. These are major contributors to the rise in anxiety. The members of the panel believe that students need to become more reflective and self-aware, more able to dwell within themselves, in order to understand what they need for their own well-being.
It is not surprising then that more and more colleges are becoming increasingly wary of the big CVs. The trend is to identify college applicants who stick to some meaningful activity which, the colleges believe, demonstrates commitment and authenticity.
The members of the panel believe that too many students are “excellent sheep.” They know how to “do” school. This does not prepare them for college or the world they are inheriting.
Colleges are increasingly looking for students who demonstrate perseverance, emotional intelligence, and a level of maturity. They want students who are able to interact in a community and work with people with all kinds of differences. And they want students who know how to be responsible for their own learning.
In the end, the big message the panel was sending to the audience of independent school leaders was to prepare students for independence, responsibility to self and others, and to definitely teach parents to step back!