The College Fear Factor

The College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand One Another

Rebecca D. Cox
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0g4d
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The College Fear Factor
    Book Description:

    Rebecca D. Cox draws on five years of interviews and observations at community colleges, where she shows how students and their instructors misunderstand and ultimately fail one another, despite good intentions. Eye-opening even for experienced faculty and administrators, The College Fear Factor reveals how the traditional college culture can actually pose obstacles to students' success, and suggests strategies for effectively explaining academic expectations.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-05366-3
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. CHAPTER 1 TODAY’S COLLEGE STUDENTS
    (pp. 1-14)

    SMALL PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES like Harvard, Columbia, and Stanford exemplify postsecondary excellence and tradition. They provide the models for “college” on television and in film that illustrate popular conceptions about campus life and the college student experience. Harvard, for instance, symbolizes academic rigor in such films asGood Will Hunting(1997) andLegally Blonde(2001). In a recent reality show, the preeminent role of the Vidal Sassoon Academy was underscored by its description as “the Harvard of hairdressing.”¹ In general, elite colleges attract a level of attention that is disproportionate to their share of postsecondary enrollments. The most highly selective universities...

  4. PART 1: STUDENTS
    • [PART 1 Introduction]
      (pp. 15-19)

      ONE OF THE TRUISMS about the two-year sector is that its diversity when it comes to educational missions, program offerings, and student population creates a bewildering and contradictory set of policies and practices within each college.¹ In addition, community colleges are heavily influenced by the local and state contexts, and as a result the variation extends across colleges as well. This factor complicates efforts to offer an accurate description of community colleges and the students who attend them.

      Even colleges serving the same metropolitan area may have wildly different reputations. I have visited campuses that students characterize as a continuation...

    • CHAPTER 2 THE STUDENT FEAR FACTOR
      (pp. 20-41)

      I WOULD NOT HAVE expected Eva to panic during her first composition class. Eva’s reports of her high school preparation for college, her prior experiences in English classes, and her attitude toward writing in general all suggested that she would feel optimistic about Comp 1A. Furthermore, she spoke of her family’s strong support for postsecondary education as well as her own commitment to a career that requires a college degree (that of schoolteacher). Eva asserted that although her parents had not puta lotof pressure on her (or on her younger sister), they did “make sure we know it’s...

    • CHAPTER 3 STUDENT ASPIRATIONS: GETTING THE BIGGEST BANG FOR THE BUCK
      (pp. 42-65)

      THE STUDENT FEAR FACTOR outlined in Chapter 2 presents a puzzle. In the case of students who begin college believing they are likely or certain to fail, what motivates them to pursue higher education at all? When self-doubts and anxiety about succeeding in college result in disengagement strategies, what prevents more students from quitting school altogether? In other words, rather than ask why and how so many college students meet with failure, perhaps it is more useful to consider how students persist in the face of such powerful urges to quit.

      The answer to this puzzle lies in students’ motivations...

    • CHAPTER 4 “HOW IS THAT HELPING US?”
      (pp. 66-88)

      REBEKAH NATHAN, in her account of the year she spent living like a first-year college student, describes a critical revelation. She explains that as a college professor she had an incomplete understanding of students that often led her to address classroom problems in ways that were bound to fail. Only after her “freshman year” investigating students’ behavior and intentions more closely did she finally recognize this truth. “I could see why my former ‘solutions’ had not changed [students’] behavior. Like many of my teaching and administrative colleagues, I often design solutions to student problems that do not address the actual...

  5. PART 2: CLASSROOM DYNAMICS
    • [PART 2 Introduction]
      (pp. 89-91)

      THE FUNDAMENTAL MODEL for college teaching can be traced to the end of the nineteenth century, when the American university system as we now know it developed. Professors took on a central institutional role. Instrumental in the discovery of scientific truth—in effect the production of research-based expertise—they were responsible for determining what specialized knowledge was required for practice in the emerging professions. Thus, university faculty members’ authority within the college classroom was founded on the knowledge derived from research. As a consequence, their function in the undergraduate college classroom was to transmit that knowledge; professing consisted of organizing...

    • CHAPTER 5 COLLEGE TEACHING
      (pp. 92-113)

      AS I WAITED for the fourth session of Professor Lori Brown’s composition class to begin, I witnessed the preceding exchange with astonishment. The week before, I had observed Lori deftly facilitate several activities, including an animated and thoughtful group discussion. That she was “teaching” had seemed self-evident to me at the time. After completing the “getting acquainted” exercise begun during session two, Lori directed everyone to move the desks out of the rows into a large circle. Dubbing this form the roundtable, she explained the purpose and guidelines for discussion of the reading assignment, Maya Angelou’s “Graduation.” For the remainder...

    • CHAPTER 6 PROFESSORS WHO “COME DOWN TO OUR LEVEL”
      (pp. 114-134)

      EVEN BEFORE STUDENTS step into the composition classroom, their varying levels of interest in the subject, their assumptions about college instruction, and their uncertainties create a series of instructional dilemmas. Further complicating the picture are professors’ conceptions of what constitutes appropriate college student behavior, and teachers’ lack of understanding about what prevents students from acting in accordance with those norms. At the same time, when instructors recognize the reasons for students’ disappointing performance—whether in class or on assignments—they are much more likely to respond effectively. By virtue of their professorial authority, instructors have a tremendous influence on students’...

  6. PART 3: GATEKEEPING
    • [PART 3 Introduction]
      (pp. 135-139)

      WHAT WE THINK of today as the fundamental features of college were institutionalized a century ago. In the midst of the profound social and economic changes at the end of the nineteenth century, the newly established universities in Germany became the model in the reinvention of American higher education.¹ The basic structures and processes of previously existing American colleges—from administrative organization to faculty hiring and promotion policies—were transformed. The practice of hiring tutors gave way to the hiring of full-time professors—scientists and scholars in the emerging academic disciplines. Departments formed around these specialized fields of study, managed...

    • CHAPTER 7 ACADEMIC LITERACIES
      (pp. 140-156)

      “WHAT PERSON IN their right mind is going to sit there and basically analyze a movie, and get a point out of it?” For Jenn, this was a rhetorical question: according to her, no one in her right mind is going to think critically about a film, see meaning in it, and write about it. I suppose that Jenn would consider academics (or film critics) to be not “in their right mind,” given that the exercise in criticism they routinely perform was the one that earned her complete scorn. Although she otherwise enjoyed Beth’s English class and reported having learned...

    • CHAPTER 8 REIMAGINING COLLEGE FROM THE INSIDE OUT
      (pp. 157-172)

      SINCE THE 1960s, postsecondary study has become available to previously excluded groups of students. As we have seen, increased access has expanded the sheer numbers of students enrolling in college courses and broadened the range of students who attend. And yet, despite the tremendous changes in the de mo graphics of students who have access to higher education, a huge gap remains between the number of students who aspire to college degrees and those who receive degrees. It is extremely significant that at the very schools where higher education is the most accessible, graduation rates are the most dismal.

      The...

  7. APPENDIX: THE RESEARCH STUDIES
    (pp. 175-178)
  8. NOTES
    (pp. 179-192)
  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 193-194)
  10. Index
    (pp. 195-198)