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                            Western Michigan University
ScholarWorks at WMU
	8-2016
The Lived Experiences of Conditionally Admitted College Students
	Ashley J. Wildman
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Western Michigan University
ScholarWorks at WMU

Dissertations Graduate College

8-2016

The Lived Experiences of Conditionally Admitted
College Students
Ashley J. Wildman
Western Michigan University, [email protected]

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THE LIVED EXPERIENCES OF CONDITIONALLY ADMITTED COLLEGE
STUDENTS




Ashley J. Wildman, Ph.D.


Western Michigan University, 2016


College students vary in their preparedness for higher education. While low high

school grades and standardized test scores are associated with poor college performance,

many colleges and universities admit at least a few academically underprepared students

in order to maintain a certain student body size, meet goals for ethnic or socioeconomic

diversity, or recruit students with certain artistic or athletic skills (Hossler & Kalsbeek,

2009; Mapes, 2011; Parisi 2012; Zwick, 2007). In order to help academically

underprepared students such as these, some institutions admit students who do not meet

regular admissions standards “conditionally” and offer them specialized programs to

provide additional support (Adebayo, 2008; Bembenutty & Karabenick, 1997; Eaton,

2006; Heaney & Fisher, 2011; Johnson, 2000-2001; Laden, Matranga, & Peltier, 1999;

Legutko, 2006; Mapes, 2011; Mattson, 2007; Palmer & Davis, 2012; Stewart & Heaney,

2013; Ting, 1997; White & Sedlacek, 1986). This population has been the focus of a

significant amount of research into their rates of retention and graduation as well as their

academic success in terms of college GPA. This literature is primarily quantitative in

nature; however, little has been learned from this research beyond what explains retention

and graduation for most students does not necessarily apply to those who are

conditionally admitted (Adebayo, 2008; Copeland, 1991; Heaney & Fisher, 2011; House,

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family was almost always mentioned. This is most clearly seen in how the students

discussed applying for financial aid. In those who specified who filled out their financial

aid forms, three said it was their moms and one said it was either her mom or her sister.

Tyler did not talk about filling out the FAFSA but did describe her mother’s successful

bid to get additional money for school:

First semester, I think I owed 4000, and my parents are like, “Oh, boy.” . . . My
mom was calling up to financial aid every day, bugging the heck out of them, and
they ended up giving me this residence hall grant, which took care of the money
that I owed, and I got some back.


Koby even mentioned that his parents used their 401k money to help pay for school. For

these students, family is a key factor in their ability in to pay for school.

Maintaining Balance: Academics and Social Life

As families and finances go together, so do the academics and social lives of these

participants. The next few paragraphs explore the themes of the academic and social

experiences found in the interviews. A discussion of the connections between academic

and social experiences will follow.

Academics. By definition, conditionally admitted college students are

academically underprepared. Their high school GPA or their ACT scores were not high

enough for regular admission. Therefore many of the questions developed by the

researcher focused on the academic experiences of the participants. How do these

students who did not do well in high school manage to complete the Alpha Program and

continue on toward graduation? The following are some of the themes that were found in

the students’ reflections on their academic experiences.

High school is different than college. While there was not a question about why

the participants were admitted to Western Michigan University through the Alpha

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Program, most of the students felt the need to explain what happened in high school that

they then found themselves being admitted conditionally. Jeanice described herself as

“lazy” and said she was more focused on sports than on doing well in school. Elena used

the word “unmotivated” to depict her high school self. James said, “I was very intelligent

in high school as I am now, but my work ethic didn’t match.” Dwight said it was his low

ACT score, which he explained,

I could blame and say, “Oh, well, I’m a bad test-taker,” or I could like blame it on
things like that, but then it was just a lack of preparation for it and just being
thrown into it and not really having the choice.


Nairod spoke more generally about Alpha Students saying, “we weren’t really applying

ourselves in high school like we should have.”

For the most part, the participants saw themselves as not living up to their

potential in high school and saw college as a second chance. For example, Dwight called

being rejected to his first choice school and then only getting admitted to Western

through Alpha as a wake-up call: “I was beyond scared straight. I was there to prove

myself.” Elena noted, “I was capable of going to class and learning the material and

testing.” The major exception to this was Alyce who used glowing terms to describe her

academic work in high school. She gave “social reasons” for why she was involved in

the Alpha Program.

Having a second chance to show they were capable of doing well academically

was significant for these participants. Several of them also noted that the structure of

college was better for them than high school. Nairod called the college schedule where

you can arrange later classes and days off as “a really underrated aspect of college.”

Tyler said that college was less stressful than high school because homework is not due

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APPENDIX F

Human Subjects Institutional Review Board Letter of Approval

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