07/31/2012 12:21 pm ET Updated Sep 26, 2012

With Great Power Comes a Lot of Responsibility (Really!)

Just the other day, I was reading The Chronicle of Higher Education's interview with Bill Gates on students continuing their education into college, which led to a question that's been on my mind for quite a while: are our students committed to their education?

Bill Gates stated that, "Other (countries) have looked at how we perform and have copied a lot of those things and so, their universities are getting a lot better. Their completion rates are better than ours, their efficiency rates are better than ours and the number of students who go into science and math are better than ours." If other countries are getting better results using our methods, is it possible that our methods aren't wrong, but the commitment of our students that has to change?

In the United States, we've had conversations in almost every sector about the impact ethnicity, gender, upbringing and performance has on education, and they all lead to one conclusion: The more educated and affluent your household is, the more likely it is that you will perform better than your less-fortunate peers. Some of that difference is due to exposure, but some of it has to be linked to parental and self expectations.

Fortunately, in my 15 years in this field, I've seen, students from very poor immigrant households outperform students from Middle America. The only difference is parental expectations. It simply is not acceptable for the student from the immigrant household to drop out of college. The immigrant family has sacrificed everything to allow the student to get an education and not graduating is not an option.

When their American counterparts drop out of college, parents are disappointed, but they don't chastise their children for failing to graduate. In many cases, they feel the school has failed, not their child. I'm not advocating parents to force their children to get a degree no matter the cost. I do feel, however, that student commitment and perseverance must be part of the conversation when we talk about education reform. As with everything in life, the problems never lie solely on one side of a relationship.

Working with students to create better candidates for college is a good step in the right direction. Students who are invested in their education are more focused, perform better and have higher expectations of themselves than their unprepared counterparts. When students have a clear understanding of what getting a college education can do for them, and accumulate debt in as rational a way as possible, they will ultimately get better results.

When students take responsibility for their education, they and the system will learn about the benefits that they are being offered. The world may be copying our methods, but when we copy their commitment to education, America just might enjoy a much higher graduation rate.