Why Poor Students Struggle, and How We Help Them Succeed

In response to Vicki Madden’s “Why Poor Students Struggle,” Judy Lorimer shares insight and information about our program that helps them succeed.

A strong connection to the community they come from, can help low-income students succeed at elite colleges as well as at community college – a connection in the form of a strong caring success counselor at a community-based organization. Community-based success counselors can help students with the tug of war in their souls along with the tug of war in their pocket books. Two years ago, the Options Center at Goddard Riverside Community Center was able to add a “College Success Program” to our 30-year-old college access program. Working with hundreds of students in school across NYS, Options is intimately familiar with the obstacles that can knock a student out of school.

When we look across the income spectrum, middle to high income students are more likely to have had support from family members who understand what top colleges look for, gone to high schools with the resources to provide a solid academic course load, access to academic support, and a large range of extracurricular opportunities. In Options experience, low-income students are more likely to lack guidance around college, attend low-resourced high schools and live in communities with no special programs and extracurricular opportunities. Furthermore, low-income students are more likely to have to work to help support their families, to look after younger siblings, and to deal with a whole range of family and community issues.

As colleges really begin to recruit low-income students, they also need to commit to supporting them once on campus. There are hurdles and challenges that low-income students face on college campuses that young people from other income brackets do not ever even have to think about. Issues with financial aid – a scholarship being pulled, a verification request, refund checks being late, — can be insurmountable hurdles  depending on the other issues a young person is handling and what the request requires of him or her. Our Success program, part of Goddard Riverside’s Options Center, is modeled with these challenges in mind. Our success counselors maintain regular contact with students long after the  admissions process and provide support in tangible ways:  we meet with students on campus at least twice a semester, and keep in touch with them through calls, e-mails and texts. Our program meets immediate needs with grants to cover ‘last-dollar’ costs, provides in-state transportation, and even arm students with school supplies needed.  

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Judy Lorimer, Deputy Director,
Options Center