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Wes Lukoshus

Wes Lukoshus

It’s amazing what I have been learning of late about how many of tomorrow’s Northwest Indiana leaders are figuring out how to succeed as first-time college students.

Solid high school grades and a strong foundation of academic preparedness notwithstanding, higher education is a much different, more demanding creature than the learning culture first-time college students experienced in high school.

Many factors contribute to a high school student’s ability to succeed in college. That’s why higher education administrators dissect retention data so diligently. Retention data? Most commonly, it is the percentage of freshman students who return for their sophomore year. That comparison is significant because college freshmen who become sophomores in large numbers also tend to become college baccalaureate graduates.

That expressed, allow me to back up a bit.

When few graduating seniors of a Hammond high school failed to apply for a generous college scholarship offered by a prominent alumnus, scrutiny revealed that the “how to” of applying for scholarships and, for that matter, even gaining admission to colleges/universities is filled with uncomfortable complexities.

In response, the Hammond Education Foundation received donor permission to redirect that scholarship money while cultivating additional support to introduce a new type of course last year at two Hammond high schools. The course, called Blueprint, teaches academically qualified high school seniors how to navigate the often challenging process of applying for college, obtaining financial assistance and becoming successful students.

Thanks to lessons learned last spring, all 40 Blueprint-enrolled high school seniors — at Gavit and Hammond high schools — gained admission to a college or university. All 40 were enrolled last fall, and all 40 have returned to their campus of choice for the current spring term.

This brings me back to the focal point at the top of this piece: succeeding in college.

During the recent holiday recess while college students were home from their various campuses, I had the pleasure of spending time with a fair share of recent Hammond Blueprint graduates.

They told me about their transition from high school to higher education. They related experiences, joys and challenges — and how they responded.

One of the great challenges of higher education administrators is that of helping students stay on a success track.

To that point, here are several lessons Class of 2017 Hammond Blueprint alumni told me they learned during their first semester of college:

  • The transition from high school to college is an eye-opening experience and an initial academic struggle — largely because of the rigor and pace of higher education.
  • Professors and instructors can become friends, but they won’t hover over their students with persistent reminders about assignments, readings, deadlines, projects and exams. In college, students must be more personally accountable.
  • Being a successful college student typically requires significantly more study and preparation time than was necessary in high school.
  • While a high school senior may have been successful learning formulas and equations, a college freshman will be asked to apply those formulas and equations.
  • Be organized, demonstrate effective time management skills and don't procrastinate to avoid falling behind.
  • Find out where to go on campus to take advantage of academic help, support and resources.
  • Focus, set goals and commit to achieving them.

Wes Lukoshus is a Region resident and former assistant vice chancellor of media relations and communications at Purdue University Northwest. The opinions are the writer's.