Colleges and universities want their students to succeed. Whether the institution is a highly selective ivy-league college or an open enrollment community college, schools want to see their students accomplish their goals. Unfortunately, not all students enter college with a level playing field. Some students come to college with qualities that will make it more difficult to succeed. Colleges often work hard to identify those students who may be academically ”at-risk” so that they can help them to overcome potential difficulties. Understanding some of the factors that may place a student at-risk, as well as some of the strategies that colleges may use to help these students will help parents to better support these students.
Who is At-Risk?
It is important to understand that not every student who fits into an ”at-risk” category will truly be at risk. Many students experience significant academic success in spite of tremendous hardships or difficulties. However, research has identified some factors that may create difficulties for students. Some of these factors include:
- Students who are academically disadvantaged.
- Students with significant learning differences or disabilities.
- Students who are from ethnic minorities.
- Students from lower socioeconomic status.
- Students from single parent families.
- Students whose middle school and high school grades averaged C or lower.
- Students who may have had an older sibling drop out of college.
- Students with certain physical disabilities.
- Students who have changed schools multiple times.
- Students who repeated a grade.
- Students with certain chronic health or psychological factors.
- Students who have suffered serious trauma.
- Students with conflicting ethnic and/or cultural values.
- Students who experience serious challenges with reading, writing or technology.
- Students with unrealistic goals based on instant gratification.
- Students with a weak self concept, who do not trust their abilities as a student.
- Students who have learned helplessness — who do not believe that they have control over their life.
- Students who are not motivated or goal oriented or who lack a sense of personal responsibility.
- Students who have a low ability to cope with life situations.
- Students who are the first in their family to attend college.
It is important to remember that these are general characteristics. Many students who have one, or many, of the characteristics listed above will achieve tremendous success. However, students with some of these characteristics may need to overcome difficulties, approach situations differently, may need extra support or more skill training than other students.
How Do Colleges Identify Students At-Risk?
The first task that a college may have is to identify potential students at-risk. This may come from demographic information, student questionnaires, student testing, or from a student volunteering the information. Faculty members sometimes recognize signs of distress in their classes. Excessive absenteeism, moodiness, changes in behavior or changes in a student’s personal hygiene are all possible indicators. Students may not purchase textbooks, may have missing assignments, and may not participate in class. Residence Life personnel also watch for students who seem to be experiencing difficulties. Students may recognize their own difficulties, and may reach out for help.
What Can Colleges Do for These Students?
Colleges may put a few, or many, practices in place to help students who are at risk of doing poorly academically. It is important for parents to remember that these practices are designed to help students succeed. Not every program or strategy will work for every student, but many can be very helpful.
- Students may be placed in developmental classes in order to strengthen academic skills and help the student experience some initial academic success.
- The student may need to be taught how to be a student and how to view himself as a student. He may attend a class or workshop in study skills, test-taking, learning strategies, time management, or goal setting.
- Students may be offered extra support or tutoring.
- An extra effort may be made to connect the student quickly with an academic advisor or counselor. Some research has indicated that contact with a significant adult on campus is a strong indicator of a decision to remain at college.
- Academic Advising may be ”intrusive”. Advisors may work harder at contacting these students often, following up more on conversations.
- In choosing classes, an extra effort may be made to match learning styles and teaching styles.
- An extra effort may be made to help students understand what the college expects of them and how college may be different from high school.
Parents, students, and the college or university all want the same thing — for the student to succeed academically, have an overall positive experience, and graduate and move into the world prepared for whatever comes next. If your college student may be potentially at risk for any reason, encourage him to take advantage of all of the opportunities that the college is offering. Encourage your student to understand that he may face difficulties in his college career, but that he can take control and seek help. His path may be slightly different from some of his friends who may not face the same challenges, but he can experience the same success.