||Randy L. Mitchell
Associate Vice President
James Madison University
I’ve been employed in higher education for nearly 30 years, but it wasn’t until my own children attended college that I truly understood the importance of a college’s philosophy about student support services – something we call “student success” at JMU. I learned first-hand that, no matter how much I wanted to take care of my daughters, it was more important that the college cared about students enough to help them learn to take care of themselves. Yes, the temptation is still strong for me as a parent to want to pick up the phone, find the right person, get to the point, and take care of business when one of my daughters encounters a challenge. That, I’ve discovered, is absolutely the worst thing to do if I want my daughters to be independent, self-responsible, and capable of handling problems for themselves.
Student success at JMU or any other college is really the result of two things. First, the institution should help students with their transitions into, through, and out of the institution by delivering effective orientation programs, fostering career and major decision advising, and providing the resources through which students can make good post-college choices. Second, our students must assume responsibility for their learning, behavior, and decisions; these are life skills that they will need in their careers, communities, and homes.
The best thing I did for my daughters while they were in college, although they wouldn’t admit it until later, was to listen, empathize, and learn to say, “So what are you going to do about it,” when presented with the crisis du jour. The best part of that strategy was that they almost always had the right response, without my help. Telling them how to fix the problem is never as useful as listening to how they think through and plan on addressing the problem. I guess you could say I’ve graduated to a different relationship; instead of taking care of them, I’m watching as they learn to take care of themselves.