An interesting thing is happening all across the country, first generation and low-income students are…. not completing the college access process. Often referred to as “Summer Melt” many of these students have been accepted by colleges or are only a few points away on the Compass Exam/ACT/SAT from crossing into the ivory halls. Yet mysteriously many of these students will not end up in a college class this fall, not because of ability but because of a something I call Collegiaphobia.
Working with young adults preparing for another chapter in the academic careers has provided me with an opportunity to see students of different abilities, backgrounds, and fall victim to this little known fear. What is common, however, is that this afflicts quite a few low-income, first generation, and minority students more so than those who are high-income, multi-generational, and majority students. However, it can be felt in communities across cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, Nashville, and others where there are communities where a college going culture has not taken root because poverty and simply keeping the lights on is a priority.
Recently two students in Atlanta, that myself and a fellow professional had provided college access assistance to, asked for assistance to enroll into their final college option (they only applied to three colleges whereas I recommend 10). These students never created a list of ten colleges or realistic looked beyond their comfort zone (stay close to home). There were B students with the tools to be successful in college and eligible for grants/scholarships to decrease the cost of their college journey. But when I asked if they took the ACT/SAT and then ask about their scores, I hear the beginning words of fear, which are “I didn’t really study …”.
Having assisted them in finding prep classes and signing up for questions of the day, my response is “You know the word test is in the name right?” It is a challenge to engage the young adult in a candid discussion about something they know and understand as they have taken plenty of tests in their academic lives up to now. They know that preparation and study can help them get the best grade possible. However, the moment they sign up for the test their battle with their fear begins. From there it escalates to missed deadlines, lack of desire to complete applications, frustration with the process itself, resistance to preparation, blaming others in the process, and the fear of standardized anything.
“Summer Melt” is described as a phenomenon that affects low-income, first generation students in the summer before college. However, it is my position that “Summer Melt” is the culmination of the fears that began when they registered for their first highest stakes standardized test for college. Self-doubt of ones abilities, fear of the unknown, fear of walking down a path alone, fear of personal growth, fear of losing acceptance, fear of loss, and fear of rejection occur for several young people along the college access path. Summer Melt is when the student faces the real prospect of change and growth, that the fears overwhelm them and causes them to avoid the college entrance process. These fears can be overcome but many times their combined weight claims another victim.
Then there are those ready to move on, they are the ones who can’t wait for the plane/bus ticket to arrive or get the car packed up for the trip for their next academic and personal adventure. These are the ones where college wasn’t an option or it was their ticket to a different trajectory in life. They are not without similar fears that manifest themselves in diverse ways but have developed the ability to accept their fears, which emboldens them to move beyond them.
When they all walk through the doors the first time as a student of an institution of higher education, they overcome much that is not merely physical but psychological. Faces light up as they embark on a new journey with new possibilities. However, those fears are only dormant a may rise again to create challenges of persistence and completion that the young people have not developed the tools to address. We must recognize that Collegiaphobia is real and that it is time for colleges and the college access community to recognize it.
William Teasley, HGEI
A blog for those working to refine the college access pipeline, create more opportunities to nurture future change agents, and mitigate the gaps.