College students are changing and so should our higher education policies

A considerable number of the contemporary students are fully engaged with responsibilities ranging from work, family commitments. /Courtesy.
It is a normal busy evening at the University of Kigali and other Universities across Rwanda. Many students are running against time to attend class while others are calmly getting out to board their way home. Before you know it, some smartly dressed students are staged somewhere with an aura of innocence and fatigue.

Well, it was my first time to see things of the kind in an institution of higher education, where student’s consciousness and critical reasoning is considered ready for the stage of maturity but again as a student of policy, I get the understanding of institutional policies and values on which it is founded.

The evening students finally make it to class but their wobbly state of mind is something to think about. I take the step closer to one student to find-out the problem, only to get baggage of responsibilities that the student carries including work, a young child at home and other family and social errands.

 Thinking of symbolic college students of our time, many of us considered it a sanctuary of fun. We thought, and some still think, that higher education conjures a tableau of young adults strolling a luxuriant courtyard as they laze around enjoying the freedom of student life as they ease their way into adulthood.

Let’s get authentic and jump-out of our rhetorical perceptions, the picture we still bear in our minds only represents the past generation and it’s far disconnected from present day realities of a college student. A considerable number of the contemporary students are fully engaged with responsibilities ranging from work, family commitments and moreover some are from financially unstable backgrounds than the earlier generations.

Due to the changes in the contemporary time with the profiles of college students continuing to evolve over time, many institutions across the world have become more flexible and are adjusting to the current trends to be able to blend in well without compromising students’ abilities to balance between work and studying.  These kinds of changes should be able to inform policy makers about the urgency of the matter and design policies that can possibly meet the current students’ needs and help them succeed both at work and at school since they are both important. Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom about the so-called traditional college students has proven stubbornly persistent.

It is evident that almost half of today’s college students are in the age bracket of the old-fashioned structure of traditional college students. It is worth noting that, a bigger number of these college students is between 23 and may be 30 years which is the epitome of serious hard-work and skill acquisition and development. It is from this stand point that flexible policies in higher education should be thought about to meet these profiles that are evolving in the modern college students. Today’s college students  cope with many responsibilities, with a considerable number of students combing both working and studying, while more than quarter of the students have their own children and  take care of other social errands.

A well revised higher education policy that looks through the lenses of these trends would lend a helping hand to the modern college students and be able to support students and set a path to a degree that maximizes their chances of graduating in the most efficient way. The policy recommendations should be able to evaluate student’s academic progress in real time as well as allowing the under pressure students at a critical juncture in their studies to perform within their means.

The trendy conception of college students is a vestige of a bygone era and as more students pursue higher education degrees and the opportunities it bestows, students will only diverge further from what is considered “traditional.” That’s an unqualified good; it’s also why universities are working diligently to adapt and meet the needs of modern college students. Policy makers must understand that it is a different time from may be their time when college students were only students enclosed in the Universities until their program is completed, and that currently, with the different needs and the perceptions that have changed, so should our higher education policies be thought about, to be able to reflect om today’s needs of college students.

 

The writer is a PhD student at Beijing Normal University pontiankbr@outlook.com

editorial@newtimes..co.rw