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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

It's college, not kindergarten

Photo: Armin Rimoldi/Pexels

Of the three million students who will start college this fall, one million won't make it through the first year on campus or won't return as sophomores, writes Lee Burdette Williams, a former dean of students who now runs the College Autism Network.

Many leave because they're not ready to function without their parents, she writes. Parents and students now expect college administrators to spare them from the challenges of adulting, such as waking up, eating breakfast, going to class and doing the work.

Her advice to parents is to raise their children to take responsibility for themselves long before they show up on campus. "If a student can’t hold down a summer job, or prefers simply not to try, that student is not ready for the hard grind of college classes."

The number of students with mental health challenges has been rising for years — around 44 percent of all college students report symptoms of depression and anxiety. The rate of students taking psychiatric medication doubled between 2007 and 2019, and is now at 25 percent.

If you hear talk about support services on the campus tour, don't believe it, Williams advises. Counseling centers, usually understaffed, are prepared to help with minor problems, but they're not mental-health clinics or addiction centers.

Williams now specializes in helping colleges educate students with autism. Staffers tell her that parents are asking faculty to "avoid criticism of students’ work." They expect extra time on assignments and exams, which they got in high school. "Students seemed conditioned to be helpless," said one woman.

"If students are so fragile that they can’t deal with criticism, or if they can’t meet deadlines, it may be time to reconsider college," writes Williams.

She proposes a “half-step year” for "students who have mental health, substance abuse, or eating disorders, or who are reliant on parents, counselors, and medication to function adequately." That means living at home while attending a local college and learning the skills necessary to leave home.

Others should take a full year to work, volunteer, travel independently -- and grow up.

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