Think of something you’ve started. A diet, exercise program, home improvement project, a class, a relationship, a do it yourself project. Why did you start it? What compelled you to begin? Did you start something because of a desired future state? Dissatisfaction with the current reality? Hope for a change for the better? Curiosity? Ambition? Money? Desperation? You were forced to?

The list of answers is endless.

Think of something you didn’t finish. A diet, exercise program, home improvement project, a class, a relationship, a do it yourself project. Why did you not finish it? What compelled you to stop? Did you not finish because you lost interest? Maybe it was harder than you thought it would be, or more expensive, or boring. Maybe too many other competing interests or priorities got in the way. Maybe you were forced to. Maybe you chose to. Maybe it just sort of happened.

Maybe stopping was the best option–the right thing to do.

Every one of us have not finished something we have started. In January 2014, I listed 12 books I intended to read over the year. One a month. How hard could that be? To date, I have read two (2) of those 12 books. After the first two, (Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and Carol Dweck’s Mindset), the other 10 books were not appealing to me anymore. For it was Tough and Dweck that set my focus and journey in a new direction…toward GRIT.

Not finishing what you start isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s the best thing. In many cases the consequences of not finishing are fairly mild and inconsequential. Not finishing is a problem only if it creates chaos or distress such as job loss, relationship issues, health concerns, etc. As related to community college students and the Completion Agenda, one of the very real problems with not finishing is that too many students take on student loan debt, only to find themselves without any credential or capacity to pay back the loan. According to a recent American Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) Report, almost 90 percent of student-loan defaulters didn’t earn a degree, diploma or certificate, and 60 percent of defaulters completed fewer than 15 credits (which is generally 5 classes in a semester).

College administrators and faculty need to remember that our students start college for many of the same reasons that we start something. And, we need to remember that students don’t finish college for many of the same reasons we don’t finish something. Policy and process alone (as mentioned in the first post in this series), won’t “fix” the reasons why students don’t finish.

For students to finish a degree or certificate they first need to know how to finish a semester. To know how to finish a semester, they need to know how to finish a course. To know how to finish a course, they need to know how to finish an assignment. To know how to finish an assignment, they need to know how to struggle, sacrifice, sustain and succeed.

They need GRIT.