Economics education

How to Identify the Characteristics of High Risk Learners in Higher Education

The relationship between students and faculty is the corner-stone of student success and retention rates. For faculty it is important to develop relationships with students early on, since generally students will only be in the class for a short period. Faculty must be able to recognize the characteristics of high-risk learners and offer the proper interventions to aid them. When dealing with high-risk learners, faculty should be willing to communicate and make referrals to advisors and other college resources as appropriate.

A high-risk learner is a student who may exhibit several of the following characteristics in the classroom:

  • signs of low self-esteem
  • feelings of alienation, as if they do not belong
  • struggling with reading comprehension
  • struggling with writing skills
  • a lack of organizational skills
  • language barriers
  • dealing with home life issues (difficulty family life, single-parent, death, abuse, etc.)
  • trouble focusing
  • insufficient communication skills
  • lack of respect for authority figures
  • troublesome, disruptive attitudes
  • tardiness and absenteeism
  • learning difficulties
  • not challenged by the curriculum (students may become board as a result)
  • completely unresponsive

If a student exhibits the characteristics of a high-risk learner, faulty should be proactive in communicating with the student to identify the underlying causes of the issue. In some cases, it may be easy to identify an issue right away in order to make the appropriate recommendations, while others may be more difficult. Students who have a language barrier, for example, are easier to identify than those who are having trouble focusing in class due to issues at home. In both cases, it is important for the faculty member to communicate with the student directly as a means of intervention.

The root cause of issues associated with high-risk learners, may stem from a variety of factors such as: previous academic difficulties, family life, demographics, economics, educational expectations, and behavioral standards. Students may need access to tutors, advisors, counselors, and other on-campus services to complete the course successfully. While faculty can help students by making referrals, the student must also be willing to seek help as necessary to ensure their success in the course.

Since at the collegiate level, a student’s success is deemed as a partnership between the learner and institution, the student has a responsibility to utilize the resources available to them. In addition, all members of the institution should seek to build a relationship with students that allow them to feel comfortable asking questions and accepting recommendations or referrals. As the landscape of post-secondary education changes, identifying and encouraging high-risk learners to take advantage of on-campus support resources will play a vital role in their success.

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