Graduate Program

College Student Affairs

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Semester of Degree Completion

Spring 2020

Thesis Director

Catherine L. Polydore

Thesis Committee Member

Tanya M. Willard

Thesis Committee Member

Karla Sanders


This phenomenological study looked at highly-at-risk college seniors who exhibited four out of the eight risk factors defined by the institution where the study took place. The purpose was to gain insight into how highly-at-risk college seniors persist to graduation by discovering what protective factors they utilized in their college career as well as the role resiliency and/or grit may have played. The participants were five undergraduate students who were enrolled at a mid-sized, public university in the rural Midwest. They responded to questions in one semi-structured interview designed to capture their experiences about college starting from high school until their anticipated graduation date. The findings confirm previous research which found that highly-at-risk students adequate support from a variety of sources in order to be a successful college student. In addition, these supports are most effective when they are unyielding. Furthermore, these ‘persisters’ often exhibit intrinsic motivation, grit, and resiliency -- the spirit of getting back up after setbacks. The findings also demonstrated that there is still more to be done to help highly-at-risk students to persist.