Lack of Personal Connection Is a Barrier to Academic Success

close up pencil on answer sheets, education concept

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close up pencil on answer sheets, education concept

The midterm season typically includes stress, exhaustion and questions about what a student needs to do to be successful. As Fordham University plummets into the spring-semester midterm season, students struggle with concerns over excessively difficult materials or exams and differences in professors’ teaching styles impacting their likelihood of success. At least, these are the top two concerns according to Inside Higher Ed’s 2023 Student Voice survey. According to their survey, students identified that not only are excessively difficult materials and differences in teaching methods a perceived barrier to success, but balancing obligations, unclear expectations from professors and mental health difficulties all impede their success. 

Midterm season can leave a lot of students and faculty feeling scattered, as the anticipation for spring break and anxieties over how to complete everything makes even the most put together students and faculty on edge for a two to three week period of the spring. According to Higher Ed’s survey, nearly 6 in 10 students want professors to be more flexible about deadlines to ease the course load burden. But would this really aid students’ real and perceived barriers to success? What about getting to know students better — would that help a student’s success in the long run? According to one-third of Higher Ed’s respondents, yes. 

55% of the students surveyed said they had received guidance on required courses and course sequences needed for graduation from an advisor. So, is the issue more administrative than it is personal or academic? American University Provost Emeritus, Scott Bass’ book “Administratively Adrift: Overcoming Institutional Barriers for College Student Success” tackles this issue head-on, calling for reforms to the educational philosophy that has left the current generation of college students feeling left behind and overlooked by their schools. He echoes the same sentiments of many college students, and Fordham’s own “cura personalis” that the role of the administration is to care for the whole student. He claims that administrations have failed to consider the “whole-student experience,” and have thus impeded the success of their students. 

Each individual at Fordham comes away with their own unique experiences and any number of factors can make a difference in a person’s experiences academically and socially. And similar to how every person’s college experience is unique to them, so too is Fordham unique to other academic institutions who have their own merits and pitfalls to face. Higher Ed cited that students often wanted to gain closer relationships with their professors, believing that this relationship would improve their success academically. When asking a Fordham student about this same concern, Ben Reilly, FCRH ’23, said Fordham’s “small class sizes have really empowered me to succeed academically. Personal relationships with faculty, staff and other students create a community of practice which is the best environment in which to learn, grow and succeed.” One of the university’s greatest assets echoed by students across campuses and majors is its small class sizes, making the learning environment feel more personalized and adaptable to class needs. The Jesuit University structure to Fordham provides a unique experience to students and professors, but barriers to academic success can come in all shapes and sizes. The sentiment appears to be that it is both up to the students and Fordham as an institution to take responsibility, shifting academia towards a culture built to foster student curiosity and in-class engagement. 

Unfortunately, a real difficulty during Fordham’s midterm season, and a great example of the stressors that permeate throughout the Fordham campus this time of year, is getting anyone to voice their concerns about their students’ and own barriers to success — professors and students alike are faced with higher-than-average expectations, and asking more of them seems to be expecting more than is realistic. This time of year makes it difficult for anyone to take on even more than is already expected of them, including the time to unpack classroom level and personal barriers to academic success. As the midterm season comes to an end and students and faculty get a much deserved break, maybe more people will have the time to worry about the stressors that make the midterm season so difficult, and what they need to do to make themselves or their students successful. At least enough time to consider the necessary changes needed before finals season sneaks up on the students and faculty of Fordham University. 

Alexandra Rapp, FCRH ’24, is a history and international studies major from Hershey, Pa.