HBCU Class of 2020: Top 10 Advice for College Success

Three female college freshman (class of 2020) take a photo together on a bright sunny day wearing their school colors on the campus of Jackson State University during Welcome Week.
Class of 2020: These three young ladies are having the times of their lives during Welcome Week at Jackson State University #JSU20.
There is an old adage that time flies when you’re having fun. Well, I must have been having lots of fun because it’s been over fifty years since I commenced my college journey as a freshman at Arkansas A. M. & N. College, now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, but it barely seems a fraction of the time.  In fact, if my beard wasn’t so gray and my head completely bald, I might try to convince myself that I’m still a young person! I know the attempt would be futile because my knees tell a different story after a lifetime of running in cities around the world whose names I can’t recall.  Although time has a way of reminding us that it’s ok to slow our pace, I decided a long time ago we never truly retire from our passion and that engagement with others is a way of staying young at heart.

In more than four decades as a faculty member and administrator—three times as a university CEO—I welcomed thousands of students to campus, helped hundreds move into residence halls, greeted them during Welcome Week, reassured worried parents, and presented graduates their degrees at Commencement. Even as I grew older, I never grew tired of lugging heavy footlockers, suitcases, TVs, computers, containers of shoes, or 24-carton cases of water up multiple flights of stairs. Those experiences aided my fitness and helped foment relationships with students and parents that lasted beyond Welcome Week or the student’s college stay.

Recognizing that this is Welcome Week for some students and the first or second week of classes for others, I decided to share with the Class of 2020 along the lines that I shared with freshmen from past years. Of course, I’ve modified it to reflect the current era.

Top 10 Advice for College Success

  1. Education is more than a collection of classes, and learning is about more than earning good grades. Education entails learning to think critically and analytically and to express oneself orally, in writing and interpersonally. Learning is about self-discovery and confidence, finding one’s voice and mastering the ability to work with those whose views may not always align with your own.
  2. Time is your most important asset and must be invested wisely since you can neither recall nor recycle it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
  3. Establish high expectations for yourself and work creatively, strategically and unceasingly to meet them. When confronted with challenges and obstacles that look like dead ends, don’t abandon your journey – forge a new path.
  4. Faculty members are disciplinary experts who serve as facilitators of learning; their role is to engage you rather than entertain you.
  5. Since the costs of earning a degree at your university are not differential, and refunds are not offered for unused services, take advantage of all resources available.
  6. Establish and maintain a close working relationship with your academic advisor; the best time to address problems is before they occur.
  7. College is a lot like a bank account; you have to make a deposit if you expect to make a withdrawal. You can’t expect excellent grades if you put forth minimal effort.
  8. Hold yourself accountable for meeting the personal and academic objectives you set for yourself. Self-discipline trumps that which is imposed by peers, faculty or administrators.
  9. Maintain a balance in your intellectual, cultural, social and religious activities; don’t obsess in any domain.
  10. Abstain from borrowing more money than you need or spending that which you don’t have.

Class of 2020, when you get to the end of your college journey, your ROI—Return on Investment—should be commensurate with the investment you’ve made. Here’s wishing you a journey filled with excitement, enjoyment and enlightenment that will last a lifetime!

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