Without treatment, transferring colleges won't save a student!

As much as I would like to subscribe to the mindset that not every college is a good fit for every student, I also subscribe to the school of thought around “don’t send them to college if they aren’t going to succeed.” How can we guarantee success, you ask? Well, there certainly is not single best answer. Each student is different, as are their needs. What I can guarantee to you though is that switching them from one college where they flunked and helping them be admitted into another college without getting any help in between is a sure fire way to not guarantee success.

Let me make sure I understand your situation: you paid for two full semesters for your young adult to attend an elite school where they flunked both semesters, walking away with zero credits. And instead of seeing this as a red flag, you’re hiring a college consultant to help them transfer to another university. Do I have the story? If it is, forgive me for being somewhat confused. Confused like the emoji on your iPhone with the hand on the chin and a bewildered facial expression. Why would I reference that? To me, it seems like a lot of money being spent on a student who either has mental health concerns, substance abuse, or executive functioning deficits. Hell - maybe they just don’t even want to be in college! Maybe there was a recent trauma that has driven them to being isolated in their room. Maybe they had an IEP in high school but thought they could “do college” without accommodations. Whether it be anything related to college capital, or even parental pressures, this student really ought to not be in college right now. I mean, am I right? Or am I right?

This is the very thing I co-presented on at IECA in May 2019. I want Educational Consultants to stop and think about the story behind the failures. Helping them transfer their young adult to another college is sweeping any issues they have under the rug. And when the parent tells you not to mention that they attended another institution, stop right there. Professionally do not say another word. Where is the pitted feeling in your gut? Are you not hearing, thinking, feeling, seeing that something about this experience may be unethical? Or even that maybe it’s a tragic ending for this young adult? Even without a clinical degree, most people could tell that something might be wrong with that student. Right?

Act as a detective to gather information about what happened with this student. Ask, what supports did the student seek out for help (it might be safe to say “none”). Ask, how they felt about their academic performance. Ask them about whether or not they made friends! Truly, let’s get to the bottom of whether or not they even want to go to class, take accountability for their experience, or are suffering from extreme social anxiety.

There’s a literary masterpiece I like to talk about when I hear of an experience like this. You may be familiar with it.

“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.”

Portia Nelson,There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

You may not care to know this, yet I’ll still tell you. When I worked in higher education and I had a student in my office utterly oblivious to their cognitive distortions about being better academically because they were willing it (not because they were doing anything differently from before), I would ask them to read this poem. Out loud. And then ask them to reflect on what they thought the poem meant. I held up a metaphorical mirror in front of them. Those words didn’t come from my mouth, but I was able to help them process their situation once that light bulb went off. Note: I was not vindictive towards my students. A health dose of experiential Reality Therapy through goes a long way.

We as professionals working with young adults either getting them to college or helping them when they fall in college, need to halt in our tracks. We are perpetuating more failure for a young generation of individuals with little to no resiliency. When they fail, they isolate or self-medicate. They return home to sleep in the basement. They can’t separate themselves from what they did, so the shame in their higher education experience is so thick it’s hard to swallow. Switching colleges does nothing, especially if there is no moment of reflection on what happened. And if the parents are steering the ship for a new college with the specific request to “forget last year never happened,” we are truly doing a disservice to a younger generation that needs to take ownership, accountability, and needs to learn self-advocacy.

As an industry, let’s help these young adults walk down a different street. Let’s stand up to the parenting generation that still subscribes to the idea that college is the way to be successful, and that getting treatment for mental health and/or substance abuse is something to be ashamed of. We are allowing these parents to walk their young adults right into that black hole in the sidewalk. Let’s open our eyes. The time to stop this is now!

For anyone looking for additional resources around mental health, substance abuse, college transition coaching, or parent resources you can find them on: https://www.lilley-consulting.com/ or follow @lilleyconsulting, or https://www.facebook.com/LilleyConsultingLLC/.