Students line up in a crooked manner, one by one, waiting for their questions to be answered. Some choose to sit down on the connected seats, waiting for their name to be called; while the seats remain filled, others opt to stand near the wall and use their smartphones to kill time. Multiple counselors walk out the door, either engaging in a friendly chatter with colleagues or welcoming the students inside what remains of their encounter.
As students fixate on whether to enroll in multiple classes or work various part-time jobs to support their family, such conflict of interests can arise that deter them from fully being immersed inside the college environment.
“Every student is in a different situation,” said Selene Roman, a counselor for the Program for Academic Support Services (PASS) center. “But from what I see, students are experiencing personal situations that require more of their attention; and only a handful come to mind that see the need to step out of their work full-time, or at least, drop some of their courses to have more time for personal reasons they are experiencing at home.”
In response to the decrease in enrollment for the Fall semester, last month, Dr. Valerie Foster hosted a student-driven panel called: “Student to Faculty: Why I dropped your class” in hopes of combating a prevalent issue of why some choose to withdraw from their classes.
One student from the panel expressed how professors should “put more of an effort to view the students in their classes as individuals,” documenting the alarming issue of miscommunication embedded in academic settings. But when students expressed how going to office hours can be nerve wracking due to a social stigma or difference of class hierarchy, building an environment where students and professors can view one another as an “individual” is just one small step towards fostering a more open atmosphere.
To desensitize their role as an educational figure and more of a human who experiences day-to-day struggles like others, Joseph Hwang, a philosophy professor, expressed that it would take the professors to share certain aspects of their life, therefore allowing students to relate and being more open to one another.
“I think the first step towards building an openness between students and teachers is for the professor[s] to humanize themselves,” said professor Hwang. “So that they’re not just an expert in the field they’re teaching, but they’re also human beings.”
Stepping foot into a community college campus, non-traditional students lurk through the vicinity of the night, pacing to their classes as they shift back from the conundrum of work to school. Some may even embark in multiple part-time jobs, solely to support their family and receive a “payable” education.
Cindy Irish, a non-traditional student who came to Pasadena City College (PCC) to start anew on her life, vocalized her sentiment on why some choose to drop from their classes, given that financial, personal, and health reasons can impede them from fully experiencing the typical “college experience”.
“Some students I know are going to school and working full-time, which is a lot to handle,” said Irish. “On top of that, they also have [other] responsibilities like caring for their family.”
Later telling her own account of dropping from a class due to personal reasons, Irish said that by withdrawing, she considered her husband’s opinion and credibility of being a high school teacher back then.
“It was a very difficult circumstance,” said Irish. “My husband and I took the same class, and he didn’t want to continue.”
Her staunt expression, turning into confusion, was evident when she discussed more of her experiences on withdrawing from the class. Expressing her discomfort on how the professor “marked her for small mistakes” and didn’t “allow the right to use other methods,” Irish’s re-account of the class left her further baffled.
“I’ve been in a lot of classes, and I taught too,” she continued. “I couldn’t believe that some professors could do that to college students.”
A renowned professor from the math department, Dr. Jude Socrates, offered his perspective on students choosing to drop, given that in STEM-related classes where some are compelled by achieving the perfect grade—and not understanding the beauty of how theorems are performed and utilized in different ways.
“Students may have passed with a grade of C, and sometimes, unfortunately, a C is not enough,” said Socrates. “Especially if you’re going from math 5A to math 5B, there’s a huge gap between the difficulty of the material from [the two courses]. 5B is well-known to be the most difficult, out of the three [calculus] series.”
When classes have prerequisites where certain concepts require an in-depth understanding, such as a difficult algebra or geometry background, the lack of comprehension can hinder students from fully understanding the material, expanding the scope of horizons that cannot be so easily reached.
“I remember in my typical experience with math 5B is that there are a lot of more drops than the other two calculus series,” said Socrates. “I usually end up with 24 students, even though I start off with 35 students.”
As different groups of students travel to their classes, whether it be a military veteran walking to their physics lab, single mother quickly sprinting to their English class, or a first-year student walking to the library, the wide-ranging student body population is the backbone of community college.
Inside a classroom where students are different from each other, the ability to understand each of one’s unique background is essential when fostering a sense of openness and communication between students—inside and outside of school.
“I think being sensitive and sympathetic is very important,” said Socrates. “You need to treat each students with respect and get to know them, their background, and learning experience. But at the same time, I demand [my students] to take responsibility and ownership… You have to be competitive.”