Open Access
Augustine, William Joseph
Graduate Program:
Workforce Education and Development
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
April 15, 2010
Committee Members:
  • William J Rothwell, Dissertation Advisor
  • William J Rothwell, Committee Chair
  • Richard Allen Walter, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Wesley Edward Donahue, Committee Member
  • The Higher Education Equal Opportunity Program
  • Act 101
  • At-risk Students
  • Under-prepared Student
The labor market in America has undergone a fundamental transformation over the past 25 to 30 years. The large loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector has created a dual labor market largely made up of marginal jobs in the retail and service sector (with low wages, inadequate or no fringe benefits, and little or no chance for career advancement) and significantly better white-collar and professional careers (with good pay, adequate benefits and career trajectories) for those with proper academic credentials (Wilson, Mason, & Ewing, 1997). This labor trend had resulted in the shrinking of the traditional middle-class and the frustrating inability of many younger Americans who are struggling financially to maintain the lifestyle of their parents and in many cases are unsuccessful (Newman, 1993). These changes are especially crucial for the at-risk student as they lack both the informal employment contacts and the financial cushion that traditional middle-class students often enjoy. So the emphasis on earning a college credential has increasingly become the determining factor as to who is better qualified to acquire the better jobs. Attaining a college credential is especially crucial to improving the quality of life and economic condition of marginalized groups and historically oppressed individuals which is comprised of a high proportion of at-risk students. Colleges and universities have become increasingly important gatekeepers to acquiring what is, for many at-risk students, the passport to upward social mobility and the realization of the American Dream (Newman, 1993). The purpose of the present study was to explore, describe, and interpret Act 101 students' perceptions of what personal and academic challenges they encountered when first enrolling in college, which support services were most important, and why some eligible students chose not to participate in Act 101 program services. The setting for this qualitative study was 32 community, four-year public and four-year private colleges and universities located throughout Pennsylvania that were participating in the Higher Education Equal Opportunity Program (Act 101). Focus groups were conducted to learn the perceptions and experiences of currently enrolled Act 101 students, program counselors/advisors, and program tutors. The research findings for research question one included personal, financial, accountability, grades, and lack of preparation themes. The research findings for research question two included counseling/advising, program director, tutors, and other service themes. The research findings for question three included personal, outside perceptions, and program service themes. The themes developed from the student responses were consistent with the themes developed from the counselor and tutor themes. These findings were consistent even though the type, availability, and delivery of program services differed at individual institutions as did the cultural backgrounds and residences of the students. Based on the study findings, the researcher concluded that all Act 101 programs that participated in this study shared similar challenges with at-risk students. The researcher further concluded that all Act 101 programs could benefit if similar types, availability, and delivery approaches of program services were utilized in meeting the needs of Act 101 student’s. The research findings also supported Tinto's Longitudinal Model of Institutional Departure which focused on academic and social integration directly impacting student departure decisions. The researcher found that the participants’ quotes and developed themes consistently reflected how the availability and delivery of Act 101 program support services created an overall conductive environment to academic and social integration. This integration positively impacted retention and persistence results for at-risk students in every Act 101 program that participated in this study. Finally, we must continue to evolve with the changing times that demand new thinking and a willingness to adopt new approaches in the way we address at-risk student’s needs. Designing, implementing, and maintaining effective support services for at-risk students is critical to increasing retention and persistence rates among the at-risk college population.