Behavior Modification and Skill Enhancement for High-Risk Term Paper

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Behavior Modification and Skill Enhancement for High-Risk Students in Community Colleges

Community colleges traditionally maintain an open-door policy, often enrolling students who are poorly prepared to enter higher education.

Once these students are enrolled, they often find themselves struggling with severe skill deficiencies and, in a survey of 6,246 students attending a large, urban community college, Jack Friedlander (1981) discovered that, of the students who were not confident in one or more skill areas, less than 30% took advantage of available support services to help with issues of remediation.

This issue is one of great debate today, with many educators arguing that it is the responsibility of community colleges to assess underprepared and "at-risk" or "high risk" students to better provide the developmental support requisite to educational success.

This research project will define underlying causal factors for high-risk behaviors in community college students and compare/contrast outcomes when neurolinguistic programming is correctly applied to predetermined behaviors.

Behavior Modification and Skill Enhancement for High-Risk Students in Community Colleges

The High-Risk Student Identified

Neurolinguistic Reprogramming

Prather, et al.

Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP)


Modern Submodalities


Sensory Acuity

Milton Model


Behavior Modification and Skill Enhancement for High-Risk Students in Community Colleges


College success depends upon both cognitive and affective skills. Based on this empirical truth, communities that support colleges within their confines often urge these learning institutions to assess an incoming student for both psychological factors (e.g., interpersonal skills, motivation, self-image, self-directedness, and so on) and competencies in basic skills (e.g., reading, writing, mathematics, and so on).

In order to address and carry out this comprehensive assessment program, large investments of time, money, and human resources are required. While thorough assessment of all freshmen and transfer students is the ideal, the reality limits assessment efforts to basic skill areas, which are more easily definable than affective competencies.

The High-Risk Student Identified

High-risk students in the community college setting are defined as students whose probability of withdrawing from college is above average. Found mostly in the underrepresented in higher education, this group of students have a disproportionately higher rate of attrition than the general student population.

In an attempt to limit these attrition rates and increase graduation numbers, most community colleges implement programs with an eye to curtail the problems that high rates of noncompletion and declines in student populations directly affect the ever-increasing costs per student.

The high-risk student's demographic components have included:

racial and ethnic minorities;

economically disadvantaged;

disability affected;

first generation to attend college;

international students;

women working in traditionally male-oriented fields;

non-traditional (age-basis) students; athletes; and transfer students.

Neurolinguistic Reprogramming

The manner in which a problem is defined often shapes the efforts aimed toward a solution. For the high-risk student, a preparation problem has often been generally defined in terms of the student's deficiencies.

This deficiency approach uses assessment testing to help identify those under prepared, high-risk students, but not without major limitations.

Prather, et al.

In 1986, Prather, et al. conducted a study on why high-risk, non-traditional students succeed. This study focused on the reasons for success, not the reasons for failure and made an effort to provide an alternative to the widely used, prevailing deficiency model.

Prather and team interviewed 107 minority graduates, many from community colleges and over half of whom had begun college careers branded "underprepared."

Opportunity Orientation

Prather's study demonstrated that "preparation includes accurate expectations" regarding college preparation. The term "opportunity orientation" was coined to represent the position that students held regarding the part education plays in allowing them access to valued adult roles.

When a student excludes education in their "opportunity orientation," if they ever attend college, it is as adults bringing along the liabilities of previous education experiences as well as the innate challenges of balancing coursework with the natural demands of a job and family.

Student Categories

Prather, et. al. also defined four categories of student preparedness for community college educations:

Well-prepared with High Opportunity Orientation: this group included minority graduates from educated families who had attended suburban or high performing inner-city schools and had always assumed they would go to college. Findings indicate that these students succeed at selective institutions, despite often being stereotyped as underprepared.

Marginally-Underprepared with High Opportunity Orientation: this group involved first-generation college students who - although lacking the preparation of the first group - had grown up with strong parental support and encouragement to build a rewarding life by attending college. Findings indicate that these students identified mentoring, summer programs, tutoring, and learning laboratories as critical to their ability to persist; a significant proportion began postsecondary careers in a community college.

Marginally-Underprepared (or lower) with Low Opportunity Orientation - this smaller group come from families and communities where peers and associates have never been to college and were consistently advised that attending community college would make no difference in subsequent opportunities presented to them. With low opportunity orientations and held back by a severe lack of preparation, findings demonstrate that this group overcame high odds - to include negative peer and family pressure - to earn degrees from community colleges.

Well-Prepared with Low Opportunity Orientation - this final group of students were well-prepared yet lacked the conviction that college could make significant contributions to their lives. Significantly, this group was composed mainly of American Indians living on reservations where unemployment rates and professional opportunities were very limited.

Preparation issues for community colleges supporting high-risk students rely on the characteristics of the four identified groups.

Group 1 students - either minority or city - are among the highest recruited since existing programs and services can best serve them.

Group 2 students are also heavily recruited in spite of the fact they often require special assistance; traditionally full-time and on site, they are usually highly motivated to complete their degree plans.

Group 3 is African-American and Hispanic in disproportionate numbers and usually concentrated in urban areas. It is rare than a community college will heavily recruit this group; the responsibility for assisting them across the wide range of academic majors is very serious for the student, community, and college. Colleges will take these students as long as the outcomes defined for judging institutional success are preparation for lower-level vocational careers or socially welfare-oriented.

Group 4 is viewed as something of an anomaly created by the unique conditions of life on an Indian reservation; however, an additional group could well include majority students without persuasion that the quality of their lives is dependent upon their own efforts and college educations.


NLP strategies can be found in most community colleges, although often sporadic and unstructured. Some improvement in outcomes may result from further refinement, better coordination, and making programs and services more widely available.

It seems highly unlikely, however, that community colleges can solve the underpreparation problem by relying exclusively on these interventions. Rather, they will have to modify their learning environments to broaden the range of diversity they effectively serve.

Changing Organizational Culture

College leaders can manage organizational culture to provide a more supportive learning environment for underprepared students by developing and implementing strategic plans, focusing on the assessment of selected outcomes, selecting new staff that embody desired values and behaviors, and providing incentives to existing staff to encourage them to support needed changes.

Key strategies may include student assessments to create more manageable learning conditions in the classroom. Developmental education programs can be used both to provide direct support to students and to pressure faculty by demonstrating that underprepared students can achieve academically under the right conditions.

The use of technology to alter classroom dynamics still contains untapped potential. Promoting curricular and pedagogical change can also be used as a powerful strategy for changing culture, especially where faculty are central to institutional decision-making.

Arguably, community colleges have paid more attention to all of these strategies than their four-year counterparts. In fact, part of the transfer issue clearly relates to the unwillingness of four-year institutions to match the scheduling adjustments, support services, and responsive learning environments routinely provided by many community colleges.

Changing organizational culture is the most promising long-term approach for dealing with preparation issues, though short-term strategies remain necessary to address immediate problems while awaiting longer-term culture change.

Deficiency and Achievement Models

Most institutions apply the deficiency model aimed at bringing everyone to a minimum level of academic preparation. A number of innovative programs, however, have piloted an achievement model that focuses on helping some students achieve excellence.

Inner-city schools have developed magnet school programs with striking results, and at least one medical school has developed a program that admits promising college juniors and assists them in preparing for the rigorous training while still undergraduates. Both programs remove barriers, help students adjust to high expectations, and change the learning environment they experience.

Unfortunately, community colleges are not free to choose between the deficiency and achievement models. Given scarce resources and continuing pressures from students seeking access, they must continue to implement the deficiency model as best they can. Concurrently, some may choose to…

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