Three common barriers that derail postsecondary education dreams

March 4, 2023

We talk a lot about barriers to postsecondary education at The Chatfield Edge. That’s because we’ve experienced the impact of these barriers on students first-hand. Before launching The Chatfield Edge, we led a small, private liberal arts college with urban and rural campuses for over 50 years.

The barriers to postsecondary education tend to fall into three main categories for students: lack of confidence, support, and resources.

Lack of confidence

We will never forget a story from our Chatfield College history. It happened more than 30 years ago. A board member at the time, an executive from Procter & Gamble, arguably the world’s most influential marketer, was helping us develop a new campaign for the school. The tagline read – “We serve bright and capable students.”

We tested the marketing materials with current students. Laurie, a typical student at the time, who was 32-years-old, and had children, bravely shared her opinion with the board.

“If anybody like me sees this, they won’t come.”

The board looked at one another, perplexed. What? How could that be?

She continued, “It has the phrase ‘bright and capable.’ If I had seen those words before I started college, I wouldn’t have known this was me. I wouldn’t have come.”

Lack of confidence in their abilities and skills is the number one barrier to postsecondary education that we see in students, bar none. It is the common denominator, regardless of age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, and rural or urban locale.

And studies support this. Self-doubt beat out cost as a barrier to pursuing education in a 2020 study by the Strada Education Network.

Fear derails students’ dreams, and they fear many things: their ability to handle college-level classes, getting lost in the shuffle, navigating the enrollment process, and completing the financial aid paperwork. Finally, there’s fear that they won’t measure up.

The most important support The Chatfield Edge provides to first-generation and nontraditional students – both in our former role as college administrators and our new role as non-profit officers – is our belief in the student’s ability to succeed. When someone believes in you, everything else can change.

Lack of support

Yes, some students come from households filled with tragic stories of neglect and loss, but often, family affection is not the issue we’re talking about when discussing a lack of support for students.

Students have loving and supportive family or friends; what they don’t have is a family member or friend with experience pursuing the field of study in which they are interested.

If you’ve ever applied for a postsecondary education course – college, certificate, or trade – you know it can be a daunting process. Every institution has its own requirements. In addition, many enrollment processes require students to provide government documentation like birth certificates, social security cards, tax returns, and more. Unfortunately, the students and their families may not have this documentation readily available or don’t know how to access it.

And most people in the students’ networks are working a lot of hours these days. So sometimes, the lack of support is simply a lack of hours in the day to get everything done.

Even once students enroll in a course of study, life’s inevitable ups and downs can derail their plans – a sick family member, a lost job, or a daycare that closes unexpectedly.

The Chatfield Edge supports all these situations and more through our full-time administrative staff and volunteer mentorship team. No matter what happens throughout the student’s educational journey, we are a constant resource for them – from filling out financial aid applications to talking about a tough day.

Lack of resources

Money is the first thing that comes to mind as an obvious barrier to postsecondary education. And yes, everyone needs more of it. And yes, education, particularly a college education, isn’t cheap.

But, as we’ve already cited, lack of confidence is often the more significant barrier vs. money. And lack of resources often includes more than just the money needed for postsecondary education.

Childcare, elder care, access to mental health resources or social support networks, and out-of-pocket expenses like books, high-speed internet, and transportation are just a few of the resource barriers that can impact postsecondary education.

Many nontraditional students must work to financially support themselves, their children, or other family members while going to school. So, even if their education is paid for, taking time away from work to attend school can be difficult.

Challenges like these, and many others, are what The Chatfield Edge helps students navigate. Our outside perspective, experience, knowledge of multiple educational pathways, and commitment to supporting their success allow us to help students identify solutions.

Whether education occurs in a college or university setting, a trade school environment, or a certification program, the unique support and encouragement The Chatfield Edge provides gives focused individuals an edge in reaching their goals.

Are you looking for a better life and know that education is the key to getting there? You are not alone. Move beyond your current circumstances and create a brighter future for yourself, your family, and your community with The Chatfield Edge. Get started today.