By Margo Landy, University Registrar, San Franciso State University
Presenter Amber R. Hunter, M.A., Associate Director of Recruitment and Outreach at the University of Cincinnati, discussed the challenges vulnerable students face in completing a bachelor’s degree at the 107th AACRAO Annual Meeting in Portland, OR, in April 2022. She presented to the audience the challenges that vulnerable students can face in degree attainment, as well as some data that gave attendees perspective on enrollment (persistence and retention) trends overall while sharing her background as a first-generation student, which provides her with a unique understanding of the challenges faced by vulnerable students.
Understanding the Issues
Defining vulnerable student populations as students who are socially, financially, or academically underprepared or under-supported, Amber discussed some of the challenges these vulnerable students can face in greater numbers than other students, such as:
- Financial challenges such as ever-increasing tuition and financial aid restrictions and the increase in the cost of living
- Complexities such as balancing school with work, child-care, elder-care, and health care challenges
- Undiagnosed learning or other disabilities, among many other challenges
And while vulnerable students typically face these challenges at greater rates than their non-vulnerable counterparts, they also have the most to gain from graduating, whether it is a lower likelihood of imprisonment, escaping generational poverty, or other benefits.
In reviewing some key enrollment trends, the audience learned about enrollment trends, including enrollment declines by certain vulnerable student groups. In particular, data from Fall 2019 entrants shows:
- Enrollment of students over 24 years old declined
- Persistence rates among Black (64.9%) and Latinx (68.6%) students were significantly lower than their Asian (86.5%) and White (79.3%) counterparts
- First-generation student enrollment has declined significantly since Fall 2019, with declines of 10.1% at public four-year institutions and an even greater 20.8% decline at public two-year institutions
After reviewing the challenges that vulnerable students face, as well as the enrollment data that shows these students are less likely to achieve their degree, Amber challenged the audience to step up to the challenge by making a difference, asking the audience to break up into small groups to share their ideas for one action that they, their office or their institution, can take to better support the success of vulnerable college student populations. Some ideas generated were:
- Provide resources to help students with health (including mental health) difficulties, sometimes connecting them directly with an individual who can help them
- Embracing a “Duty to Inquire,” recognizing that a student may depend on us to take the extra step to ask what we can do to help them, and then actually take the requested steps
- Find ways to make degree requirements transparent so that students can understand the degree requirements from the beginning to avoid the unpleasant (and possibly totally derailing) surprise at the end that a degree requirement remains unmet
For further information and resources in support of vulnerable students, visit AACRAO's Displaced & Vulnerable Students signature page.