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Part of Western Governors University

August 2, 2022

Student Success

Finding Persistence When the Going Gets Tough

persistent worker

"Energy and persistence conquer all things," wrote Ben Franklin, and those words may never be more true than in education. With persistence, a student will return—course after course, month after month—until they have reached their educational goal. Unfortunately, many students simply drop out when the going gets tough.

What inspires students to persist remains difficult to discern. It doesn't necessarily correlate with personality characteristics or have anything to do with previous good or bad experiences in school, as one 2020 report by ProLiteracy points out. Clearly, it comes from a complex web of factors, each of which can act independently or together.

Nevertheless, there are at least three clear ways to inspire students to become more persistent, and identifying them may provide the first step to moving students forward when obstacles form in their educational journey.

1. Embrace Self-Efficacy

A report in the education journal Student Success noted persistent students have high feelings of self-efficacy, which roughly means they feel a sense of control over their environment and are able to succeed. It sounds a lot like, "All you have to do is believe!" but it's much more than that.

The report noted students who believe they will be successful will put more effort into the tasks and spend more time overcoming difficulties. Students who are less confident they will succeed are more likely to withdraw and quit their studies when challenges present themselves.

The good news is that self-efficacy is a learned behavior, not some mysterious innate quality. By starting with manageable classes with motivated fellow students and growing in competence and confidence, a student can develop self-efficacy over time.

happy woman persistent

2. Destigmatize Help

When their educational journey gets tough, persistent students seek out help and support. They don't turn the obstacle inward and believe something is wrong with them, saying things like, "I am not smart enough for this." Instead, persistent students look at the obstacle as something that can be overcome with the right tools and support. In this way, "I can't do this" becomes "I can do this—all I need is help."

Universities can play an important role in destigmatizing when students seek help by normalizing the struggle of learning. At Western Governors University (WGU), instructors are always happy to answer questions and your assigned Program Mentor is available to guide you through the challenges of education.

Persistent students also find support among their peers. This helps them feel like they're not alone when they experience challenges. At WGU, online forums both within and across course and social media groups facilitate students developing persistence.

3. Redefine Failure

Cracking the code of what makes a student persistent remains ongoing, but clues are plenty, as demonstrated in ProLiteracy's report. One thing they found with adult learners is that they often did not feel like they were quitting at difficult moments but merely stepping away from their studies for a bit and would resume later. For these students, their time out of school is not a failure but a strategic move toward success.

As noted in Harvard Business Review, redefining failure becomes key to keeping the tough going when the going gets tough. Flexibility in your education options, as WGU provides, makes this even more possible by allowing students more autonomy to make the right choice for themselves, paving the way for them to get back on track when the time is right.

The important thing to remember is not to give up, as it's true that nearly every problem can be overcome with the right support. It's often just a question of knowing what to ask and who to ask. At WGU, you'll find both the right questions and the right people.

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