We were recently working with an institution and every time Matt and I talked about Early Alert as a positive resource for At-risk students, we were met with resistance. My insistence that there was no shame in being managed in an Early Alert program was met with looks of disbelief. Finally, after three days of working to reframe Early Alert, someone in the room said…

Students will never think that being identified as a Red-flag student is positive!

This was an epiphany. Wait. What? I am not talking about Red-flag students! Every time I said “At-risk students,” our clients were thinking “Red-flag students”. I am here to tell you, these are NOT the same thing!

At-risk students are just students that are likely to need some sort of intervention to overcome challenges.

On the other hand, Red-flag students are deeply corrosive.

Do you know any Red-flag students? Here’s what they have in common:

  • They burn up resources – These students take A LOT. They have to be watched, cajoled, reprimanded, disciplined, coddled, and convinced. They use up time, energy, chances, and effort. They are not thankful, they don’t work hard, and they don’t intend to change.

  • They harm the institution – Having a Red-flag student on a campus can be toxic. They harm your community and campus culture. They are not a good mission fit. They can make other students feel unsafe, out of place, and unwelcome. Consider how they impact your your campus culture.

  • They don’t opt in – You work way harder than these students. They are used to other people pulling them along, making exceptions, and propelling them towards success. Red-flag students must learn that they are in control of their lives, and that the choices they make to succeed or fail will be respected.

Does this sound familiar?

Good Early Alert is NOT about finding and managing Red-flag students. You can expend a lot of valuable resources on these students and still not change the outcome of their time on your campus. I want to give you permission to stop working so hard for them.

I believe in continuously and consistently inviting students to participate in their development. I also believe in respecting a student’s right to make their own choices about his/her place in the community.

Find At-risk students for whom you can really make a difference and focus your physical and emotional energy on them.

Next week, we’ll look at how to define and identify At-risk students!

About Rachel Phillips-Buck

Rachel Phillips-Buck is the Vice President and a Senior Consultant at Pharos Resources. She works closely with clients to create and coordinate best retention practices on their campuses. She has worked with Pharos 360 since 2006, helping to develop and implement this early alert system on campuses throughout the United States. Prior to her work with Pharos Resources, she worked as a career counselor at Abilene Christian University. She taught the Career and Life Planning Class, and created and delivered the “D!scovery for Deciding” program, a five-week program that helps students choose, confirm and focus his/her major. Rachel is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and approaches all of her work with Pharos Resources with a perspective informed by her training in Systems Theory. Rachel received a BS in Psychology and a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from ACU.

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