Success Against the Odds: The Experience of At-Risk Students Who Graduate Fom Postseconday Institutions
Banks, Felecia Moore
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Over the years, dramatic changes in retention and attrition rates have given rise to extensive studies on the academically at-risk college student (Nisbet, Ruble, and Schurr 1982; Levin and Levin, 1991, White & Salacek, 1986). Yet, most of these studies have focused on statistical measures identifying predictors of success using traditional quantitative methodology, with only sparse attention given to the amorphous phenomenon of the "student's experience." Against the odds, some at-risk students continue to succeed in college, despite academic dificulty. The purpose of this study was to examine the experience of academically at-risk students who graduated from four year institutions and to discover how they successfully navigated higher education life's path, despite academic challenges. Specifically, this study sought to understand the process by which these students persisted from college entry to graduation; the tasks of accomplishing requirements for course work and earning sufficient grades; the management of social issues of home and campus life, and the strategies they employed that yielded success. This research used a case study and grounded theory methodology to analyze the interviews of four students. A comparative iterative analysis of the data revealed that these students experienced a supportive, enjoyable, yet highly stressful college experience that was shaped by interactions within their academic and social communities. Findings also revealed that theses students perceived thier college experience as hard work and presented with the defining feature of a unique will to continue in college during high levels of stress that was central to research on student resiliency. In addition, this study provided an example of how students experience a developmental shift from late adolescence to adulthood, where the transition to adultness often involves an overwhelming amount of responsibility that some students might not be equipped to fully handle. Successful strategies that these students employed consisted of: a) self-appraisal, b) mirroring of parental values, c) long range goal-setting, d) positive use of time, e) monitoring of extracurricular activities, f) practice, visual, hands-on learning, g) resourcefulness, and h) extra effort.
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