The Effects of a College Preparatory Program for High-Risk, Non-Traditional Students with a Focus on Vocational and Technical Training



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Within the large population of non-traditional college students is a small subset of students who are considered to be “high-risk” non-traditional students. These students face unique challenges, yet because their population is so small, their needs are often unaddressed. Such needs include meaningful relationships with faculty, advisors, and counselors, flexibility of student services, relevance in classroom content, financial aid, and study skills (Belcastro and Purslow, 2006, p.6). This research study examined an innovative program at a community college in Southeast Texas that was designed to help high-risk students meet these needs through an intense six-week program in a cohort setting that reflects an authentic college experience. In this program, students not only are given the opportunity to simply adapt to the college environment, but they also attend a series of courses that serve to review their reading, writing, math, computer, and study skills prior to their first full semester in college. In addition, students also explore careers through visits from department chairs and instructors from across the campus. This research study examined the academic effects of this program on its participants and the results will expand the limited body of literature surrounding this select student population. Data were collected as part of the professional duties of the researcher as commissioned by the program director and president of the college and was requested for use as archival data for this study. Data included individual student, staff, and instructor interviews, classroom observations, and a survey. The data were reviewed to find out how the program affected the participants’ academic preparation as they entered their first semester in college and to determine which aspects of the program are the most valuable to high-risk students so that future programs may provide similar assistance to this distinctive subset of students.
Five primary themes emerged as the data were analyzed: a) constructing confidence; b) establishing a routine; c) reinforcing skills; d) establishing a system of support; and e) resource knowledge. Within four of the five primary themes, several sub-themes emerged. The first two sub-themes refer to specific types of confidence: a) confidence in mathematics skills; and b) confidence in belonging in college. The next three sub-themes refer to areas of skill reinforcement: a) mathematics; b) reading and writing; and c) study skills. In addition, two sub-themes were discovered in the area of support: a) faculty and staff support; and b) peer support. Finally, the last three sub-themes refer to types of resources that students found to be useful: a) counseling; b) financial aid; and c) careers. Each theme and subtheme was discussed in detail, and evidence from the student interviews and survey was used for support.
To conclude, implications were discussed for each primary theme, and recommendations for the program and for future research were made.



Non-traditional students, Vocational training, Technical training, Developmental education, Adult learners