This week’s reflective journal focuses on engagement of low-income students. The first learning point are the challenges this constituency faces balancing work and school. According to Quaye and Harper (2015), low-income students are more likely to work upward of 30 hours a week to pay for school, and less likely to be continually enrolled. As per this week’s presentation and lecture notes, low-income students do not have the luxury of focusing on school, which creates an additional engagement challenge. As this constituency is likely to be living off campus and enrolled part-time, they will have less of an opportunity to participate in extracurricular and co-curricular activities. These factors create a challenging “student experience” from both the perspective of the student and the institution. An important learning point in the week’s material is the need for financial aid and the lack of information received about financial aid for low-income students. One of the recruitment strategies for this constituency should be to provide ample information on financial aid options prior to their application. If low-income students are entering higher education with uncertainty and concerns around their finances, they are being set up for failure.
Another key learning point this week is the academic challenges low-income students will face compared to high-income students in their college success and persistence. In addition, it is noted in the chapter that low-income students are disproportionately students of color. When I think about this, it begins to make sense. Low-income students who are working do not have ample time to focus on coursework outside of the class. Because they are not living on campus, they are not able to create a support network of peers from their classes, and therefore have minimal opportunities to work with other students on assignments and studying together. Finally, given the students are disproportionately students of color, these students, as this week’s presentation notes, may be the first in the families to attend higher education, and therefore do not have the necessary support and understanding from their family members.
The theories presented are extremely important to understand the needs of low-income students. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows an accurate picture that these students can only engage in higher-level activity if their basic needs are met. In terms of basic needs related to higher education, we look at the necessary financial resources and academic assistance. This is where as student services practitioners, we must build upon providing detailed information about financial aid with consistent messaging about application deadlines and other potential funding sources available. We also need to ensure an academic advisor is in touch with the student each semester to assist with their questions related to registration, and any academic struggles they may be facing. The perspective of post-structuralism is one I have never heard of before. In looking deeply at one’s own campus structures and policies for biases and built-in barriers, this could begin to alleviate some of the challenges faced by low-income students. For example, through this process, it may be determined that the information low income students are seeking is scattered throughout many different departments, therefore making it difficult for students to easily access it. A recommendation could be to present the information in a more cohesive fashion, and within lesser departments.
Improving low-income student engagement is another important learning outcome for me, as I’ve witnessed and experienced challenges engaging this constituency. I am in favor of the idea of conducting an inventory of all programs, activities, and policies and evaluate if they are unfair to low income students. I am also in agreement with the material in the chapter that institutions should not have a “one size fits all model” and institutional practice needs to be reshaped. Although different types of institutions have different structures, we need to create a package of services catered to low income students. This package needs to include connection with an academic advisor, and the strategy of instrusive advising needs to be employed as a method of working with these students. I have used this strategy on occasion with low-income students, and it has been effective in addressing student’s questions and concerns related to finances and academics. Many of the needs of this constituency have been mentioned in this chapter, but as institutions, I believe we are missing out on providing support and awareness of what is available to low-income students. Minimizing the costs of working will be extremely challenging for colleges and universities. Of all the strategies mentioned in this chapter, I believe this one will be the most difficult to implement. Cultural Relevancy Theory plays a role in this, but ultimately if students are in financial need and have dependents at home, they will continue to work.
The key is to get low-income students involved in learning communities. This will allow students to be involved in co-curricular activities, as well as support from peers. Faculty need to be educated on how they can promote student-faculty interactions. This is important as when a low-income student is balancing many priorities, having them self-identify the importance of this relationship can help them to reach out to faculty when they need assistance. I believe technology should be used to get low-income students engaged. Using skype to talk to classmates or instructors can strengthen their engagement, and allows them to do so off-campus. That connection is important, which I’ve learned doing an online program.