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August 10, 2018

The difference between persistence and attrition in college


When I started teaching at a private college, in 1996, I was introduced to a new concept, called persistence, which I immediately liked. Persistence is the opposite of attrition. I'll see if I can explain. Stay with me. I'll start with attrition, which most people who went to college know about.

When I went to college, a long time ago, it was all about attrition, which meant that on a regular basis, efforts were made to eliminate people from the school. You can think of it similar to "culling the herd", or cutting out the "dead wood". It's an attitude which is all well and good for the people who survive the cut, but is devastating for people who were sent away. Of course, since I graduated, I was in the group of people who never saw the other group. They simply disappeared.

The opposite of attrition is persistence. And that means helping people in any way that you can to continue, or persist. At the college where I taught, there was no need to eliminate people, we had plenty of room. Of course in any college there will be people who drop out for their own reasons, which are as varied as there are individuals, but there was no specific attempt to cut people. Like I said, I immediately liked the concept of persistence.

Of course, at a private college it just made sense to encourage people. This was a commercial venture, and there was no financial advantage to the school to lose students. And we did everything we could to encourage, and help. Since I taught graphic design, I took it to an even higher level, students could contact me through email and I would often create a web page just for them that would help them get going on the next assignment if for some reason they had missed a lecture. I was an early adopter to the technology, and since that's what I taught, my students who had computers, and knew how to use them on a basic level, could get a lot more from me.

Persistence appealed to me. I like to encourage, I like to help. I started teaching just as a job, but it turned into something that helped me express who I'd always wanted to be. And I didn't want to be one of those teachers who said, "tough - life's not fair! You probably should be sweeping floors for a living!" I wrote "You can do this!" on every syllabus, and I left no student behind. If they were in the class, or responded to an email, I would help them. I was saddened by students who just disappeared, and of course they dropped out. But if I had a chance I'd help them - no one would fail in my classes if I could help it! Not on my watch!

I don't teach anymore, but I'm still that guy. I believe in a better world, a world with more opportunities, more kindness, and yes, fairer. I've seen too much terrible stuff in a long life, and I refuse to add to that. I may not be able to do much, but what I can do is to encourage.

Persistence! You can do this!

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