Framing the college experience for under-prepared students: A comparative study of the experiences of under-prepared students in three four-year institutions
Mulvey, Mary Ellen
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The population of students labeled "under-prepared" for higher education is large and increasing. With colleges and universities facing pressures in the areas of financial stability and student outcomes, the issue of under-prepared students in higher education is critical and presents what promises to be a longstanding challenge for both post secondary institutions and the larger American society. This qualitative study examined the experiences of under-prepared students at three four-year colleges, each with a different institutional orientation, and attempted to understand how these different institutions framed the experiences of students who were admitted on condition of their participation in specially designed, college funded programs. This research used individual and group interviews to investigate a sampling of how past and present program participants, faculty, and administrators at the three institutions understood the experiences of under-prepared students, and the programs that served them, at each of the different colleges involved in this study. To provide a fuller picture, this study also incorporated analysis of institutional and program documents as well as informal observations done on each of the campuses. Study findings demonstrated a reflexive relationship between institutional structures and experiences of under-prepared students. Institutional identity, including the way an institution sees itself relative to its official purpose, goals, and reputation, determines how it sees under-prepared students and, in turn, shapes how these students see themselves and their college experience.