True Grit: The Retention of Talented, Low-Income Undergraduate Students

The University of Auckland, New Zealand

The University of Auckland, New Zealand

The University of Auckland, New Zealand


Background / Context
This proposal reports on the experiences of 10 talented, low-income, ethnic minority undergraduate students who were involved in a larger intervention study of talented teacher education students studying at a New Zealand university. The study involved the identification of talented students and the introduction of a low cost intervention aimed at fostering their talents.

The Initiative / practice
The intervention consisted of:

Methods of evaluative data collection and analysis
The study was carried out over a twelve-month period and involved the collection of qualitative and demographic data. From a cohort of 2,612 undergraduates 278 (10%) that achieved an A grade point average were invited to participate in the study. One hundred individuals volunteered to be interviewed. Twenty-two interview participants were randomly selected including 10 talented low-income students. Transcripts were analysed using an inductive approach. Three themes emerged from the 10 transcripts, factors that: contributed to participants' success; challenges participants faced; and evidence of psychosocial factors such as motivation and resilience.

Evidence of effectiveness
Participants reported a commitment to qualification completion, increased self-esteem and interest in postgraduate study.

Low-income, high ability students enter university at similar rates to high-income students in the United States of America, but their degree completion rates are significantly different (Wyner, Bridgeland & Diiulio, 2007). Talented low-income minority background students have significant barriers to overcome in order to reach lofty goals. This study adds to the dialogue exploring resilience of people from impoverished backgrounds who upon completion of their teacher education studies can return to their local environments to teach children from similar backgrounds. Post-college education is a much greater challenge for talented students from low-income, minority ethnic groups (Bowen & Bok, 1998; Wyner et al., 2007). Whilst these individuals may be underprepared educationally, they have greater insight into the situation of students from similar environments. Recruiting highly capable teachers from such under-represented groups could be a strategy to help reduce underachievement. Despite experiencing similar risk factors to the ones their students face, these teacher education students have successfully completed a tertiary qualification and are now in a position to give back to their communities. Whilst this is a New Zealand study of talented low-income teacher education undergraduates, our findings may have application elsewhere.

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