Most educators - at least those in K-12 schools - are well aware of how self-fulfilling expectations affect young people. If they believe they're going to succeed, they have a much greater chance of doing so. But if they think they're failures, perhaps because of actions by teachers and their peers, they won't do as well.
Perhaps more leaders in higher education need to get on that bandwagon. Some have.
Recently, a new campaign to improve graduation rates at West Virginia colleges and universities was unveiled by the state Higher Education Policy Commission and the state Council for Community and Technical College Education. Clearly, our state needs to do a better job in getting people into - and successfully out of - higher education.
Just 17.3 percent of West Virginia residents hold bachelor's or advanced degrees from colleges and universities. That is one of the lowest rates in the nation. In addition to holding back individual West Virginians, it is an economic development black mark.
The situation is not likely to get better without decisive intervention. Studies indicate only 17 percent of the ninth-graders in our schools are expected to earn two- or four-year degrees within 10 years.
Convincing young people to work toward higher education and making it easier for them to do so has been one traditional approach to the problem. But that overlooks the fact plenty of West Virginians go to college. Most of them don't graduate, however.
Some might make it if the road was not such a long, expensive one. Even at really good schools, fewer than one-third of students obtain so-called four-year degrees in that amount of time. The standard yardstick for earning a bachelor's degree has become six years.
Programs to accelerate the timeline for a bachelor's degree - and to make the freshman year of college more survivable academically - are essential if our state is to produce more people with degrees.
Some institutions have such programs in place. Within just a few years, they can be expected to bear fruit in higher rates of freshman retention and four-year graduations. In effect, they tell young people success in college - within four years - is to be expected.
It is all a matter of self-fulfilling expectations. When mediocrity is the norm, failure is not unexpected. A good start in reversing that would be a realistic, enforced campaign to get bachelor's degrees into students' hands within four years.