High-risk college freshmen: Toward understanding academic success

Carolyn Marie Goodspeed, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation is a teacher/researcher study that was concerned with academic success for high-risk college freshmen. The primary question was why do some students succeed academically and others do not. This is an in-depth study of one community of learners, twenty-four high-risk college freshmen within a three-layered study: the students, the class, and the college community. Ferrum College's admissions' standards defined high-risk with several possible variables: (a) high school grade point average below a C, (b) SAT scores lower than 800, (c) nontraditional students (either older than the usual college freshman or out of high school for several years), (d) second language learners, (e) students who had been identified as learning disabled. The actual data collection phase was primarily one academic year; the pre-research and post-research phases included a pilot study, publication of a textbook, the designing of a wholistic class (wholistic language and wholistic student), and follow-up research. The research methodology included the creation of a wholistic language class for these high-risk students, student journals, teacher/researcher journal, interviews, and videotaping class sessions for the entire semester. As the teacher/researcher I was able to recognize several insights and patterns concerning this group of high-risk students. Students at-risk can be identified by certain behavioral and/or academic patterns; teachers are often able to identify these students within the first few days of class; these students viewed themselves as poor learners; a stereotypic high-risk student pattern became evident, but labeling and generalizing may be harmful and restrictive; recognition of certain patterns individually and collectively should be informative for instruction and flexible, providing flexible labels for students; wholistic language and metacognitive learning strategies did make a difference for these high-risk freshmen. These results should be meaningful not only for college teachers of high-risk students, but teachers and administrators at all levels who strive to empower at-risk students with academic success. The key is recognition, intervention, and direct instruction: this is not a time to back off from our at-risk, developmental programs but to reach out for these students at all levels.

Subject Area

Higher education|Curricula|Teaching|Teacher education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Goodspeed, Carolyn Marie, "High-risk college freshmen: Toward understanding academic success" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9727010.