Myth-Busters Guest Post

Well, friends, I have some very good news! Stefanie Ivan, Associate VP of Student Services at Grant MacEwan University has written a wonderful myth-busters blog post. Stefanie tells me that she presents something similar to parents of new students during Orientation at MacEwan and I think it’s a good idea. I got to know Stefanie through WARUCC, where she is serving as Past President, after being VP, and President. I know you’ll enjoy this post and perhaps it will spark your own ideas for myth-busting at your institution. Here’s what she has to say:

So back in January, Grant sent me an e-mail asking if I’d like to be a guest blogger.  I’ve followed his blog with interest as I like to read thoughts about what others experience in post-secondary education whether they teach or work in post-secondary or are students.

In fact, finding out what students are saying about their experiences in post-secondary education has been a bit of a fascination of mine for the past few years.  They blog about the good (“woot, woot, I got accepted to univeristy”), the bad (“Calculus is gonna kill me!”), and the ugly (“I got the Dean’s ‘vacation’ letter today so need to go and drown my sorrows before I break it to my parents”).

What I like about reading student blogs is that most students understand the reality of post-secondary education.  What concerns me is that those who may be supporting the student (parents, friends, etc.) don’t always understand especially if they’ve never experienced college or university themselves.

I think there are a few common myths out there that I’d like to debunk for those helping others navigate post-secondary.

However, before you go on, I must tell you—


Reader discretion is advised.  The information you are about to read is, for the most part, my own opinion (okay—there are a few facts thrown in for good measure).

Now on to debunking some post-secondary myths:

1.      Most students complete their program in the suggested time frame (i.e. one year for a certificate, two years for a diploma, four years for a degree).


Once in post-secondary education, students often change their academic goals which impacts on the length of time to graduate.  This is quite usual.  Post-secondary education opens up a whole host of opportunities that students usually don’t always know exist until they start sampling.  Sometimes it takes a while to find what courses they are interested in, so there can be quite a lot of movement between courses and programs initially.

Many students complete programs in excess of the length of program time due to other commitments as well. They balance work, volunteering, family and their social lives.

It will be interesting also to see if what is just starting to happen in the US also happens in Canada:  some  students are fast tracking their programs to complete in even less time than is recommended (say, completing a four year degree in three years by taking an insane amount of courses).

2.      All students who attend post-secondary institutions complete their program.


Information from research in Canada (Finnie and Qiu) shows that about 50% of all students fail to finish their INITIAL program of study within 5 years, but only about 10-15% are true drop outs—that is, they do not finish a credential or stay in school.  Of those who do leave post-secondary education at some point, between 40-54% return within 3 years.  Students are most likely to leave in their first year, and the probability of leaving decreases after that.

In Canada, the five year graduation rates for college students is approximately 56% for college students and 52% for university students when viewed from the perspective of those who complete their first program (Finnie and Qui).  Rates rise to 73% for college students and 69% for university students when you look at those who switch programs or leave and then return.

Finnie and Qui find that approximately 25% of college students and 18% of university students leave their first post-secondary education program by the end of the first year, but more than half of these switch immediately to another program, and many of those who do leave post-secondary return to the system in the next few years.

It is a reality that not 100% of students who start post-secondary will complete.


3.      Students experience great difficulty transferring to other institutions.


I believe that the reason we hear transfer “horror” stories is that students take a course with one goal, program or destination institution in mind, and then change their minds or don’t achieve the level of grade necessary in order to transfer the course.

In his earlier blogs, Grant talked a bit about transfer articulation and some of the difficulty that arises from institutions recognizing transfer credit differently.  As Canada has no national system of transfer (we’re ahead of other Canadian provinces and other countries by having provincial systems of transfer in many Canadian provinces), this is where I believe transfer “horror” stories arise.

4.      Students can expect to get comparable grades as they received in high school.


I searched for Canadian statistics about this, but I couldn’t find any. My hunch is that only a small number of first year post-secondary students achieve grades that are close to the grades they achieved in high school.  There’s a transition period that most students feel when they move from one system to the next, and this can impact grades until the student acclimatizes.  But, if you have some statistics on this, I’d be interested to see them as this is only a hunch.

5.      A student needs a very high grade point average in order to graduate.


Although like others in post-secondary, I encourage students to “shoot for the moon”, the bottom line reality is that all institutions have a minimum grade point average necessary to graduate.  On a 4.00 scale, a 2.00 or slightly higher is a common GPA to graduate although students in honours programming require higher GPAs.

The minimum GPA to graduate won’t be enough for graduate studies and certain other things, but it is true that the minimum is all that is necessary to get that  parchment!

6.      Most students withdraw because they aren’t “making the grade”.


I think that some students withdraw early because they aren’t achieving good grades; however, I don’t think that is the reason that the majority of students withdraw.  I’ll give you some research from my own institution this time.  MacEwan’s studies show that students leaving their program early often withdrawfor reasons other than academic performance.

The two most common academic reasons were poor program suitability and unclear academic goals. The two most common personal reasons were financial resources and health.  Again though, even if students withdraw, many of them are just temporarily “stopping out” and not “dropping out” completely.

7. Working part time while attending school is something that won’t affect grades.


There’s been a lot of research about the impact of working while going to school.  In general, the research seems to suggest that students who work less than 15 hours a week generally have a better chance of maintaining their grades than do their fellow students who work more than that.  Of course, a student who works 30 hours a week and always attends class may have a better chance of success than a student who works only 15 hours a week and never attends class, so it’s all relative!

8. Socializing will negatively impact success.

In fact, socializing and fitting in is an important part of the first year experience.  Students who don’t find friends and experience isolation are much more likely to drop out than those who don’t.  Of course, everything in moderation 😉

So that’s it for my “mythbusting” for post-secondary education. One of the reasons I love my job is that I get to assist students and colleagues in helping students and those who support them to find real answers to their questions.    But again, these thoughts are mainly my own opinion with a few facts to support my points.  I’d be curious though, do YOU think any of the above are really truths? I’m always up for a good discussion 🙂


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