Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Jayne Sommers, Jean-Pierre Bongila, Buffy Smith


Institutions of higher education now receive increased scrutiny due to the rising cost of attending college in the United States and the high levels of student debt (Hill, 2016; Mitchell, Leachman, & Masterson, 2017; Robb, Moody & Abdel-Ghany, 2012). Not only is the cost of higher education debatably problematic, the ability for students to graduate within four years has become increasingly difficult. This increased time in college only further contributes to the overall educational costs. Unfortunately, students identified as at-risk during the admissions process seem to bear the greatest burden because they typically require more years to graduate, lack sufficient resources, and accumulate higher levels of student debt (Gray, 2013). Students designated as at-risk at admission typically need more assistance navigating the educational and financial resources available at institutions of higher education.

This qualitative study, conducted at a small liberal arts institution in the Midwest, explored both obstacles and positive factors influencing the academic success of at-risk students. Analysis of qualitative data from first year students gathered from individual interviews with students who have completed their degrees and those who did not continue with their studies provides insights into the students’ personal motivation in conjunction with student support offered by the university and student-centered teaching approaches. The qualitative research approach allowed for an in-depth analysis of the individual stories around college completion (Creswell & Poth, 2018). This approach allowed me to gather data directly from participants which in turn informed identification of potential solutions to this problem.


at risk students, first generation, low income students, mentor, engaged pedagogy, curriculum reform

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This file may be slow to open due to its size. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

Education Commons