6 From At-Risk to At-Promise on Education (Post-Traditional Learners n.d.). The National Center for Edu- cation Statistics defines nontraditional primarily by age as well. It notes on its website that there has been a significant amount of research into defining the qualities of nontraditional students (NCES n.d.). While this book pro- poses to adopt the phrase “at-promise” instead of “at-risk,” we also find that “nontraditional students” is more common in some cases and that this lan- guage may also be exclusionary. Still, this term is useful when talking about the college or university structure supporting all students. When discussing how to build a university structure that supports all students, we’ve used a particular definition throughout this book. Regardless of who the students are, how they pay, or where they come from, higher edu- cation must build equitable structures to support them all. Building those structures means changing the way some college or university systems are run or managed. Staff, faculty, and administrators, in order to make those changes, need a new way of thinking about students in these demographics. “Traditional,” “nontraditional,” or “at-risk” labels continue the dominant thinking of students as those needing to be fixed. The term “at-risk,” explored at greater length in chapter 3, is often used to refer to so-called marginalized groups who may be at risk of dropping out of the university. This book recommends dropping terms that include the deficit model of thinking. Dropping the phrase “at-risk” will help the way staff and faculty consider these students. One thinks of students differently simply by replacing the term with “at-promise.” Rather than seeing these students as individuals who may drop out—at risk of not graduating—using the term “at-promise” may allow library workers to see the potential and ability in these students. How can we use this phrase to consider their experiences, their culture, their strengths, and their needs? Words matter to students, and all of their experiences help guide them to success. When educators and advisors flip their language to refer to students as at-promise, they set the stage for success in our individual perceptions. By seeing students as those who can achieve, and by honoring them and their experiences, we become less inclined to try to fix the students. As educators, we can help them see how their prior experiences can help them succeed. The reason this is so important is that huge populations of students can be considered at-promise. They can be nontraditional students, caretakers of dependents, students from different racial or cultural backgrounds, people in the LGBTQIA+ identity landscape, or students who have disabilities. Our students have had a variety of experiences, and as educators, we can become adept at recognizing their skills. Just to give you an example of how many students may fall into these categories, here are some important facts to explain how these students in
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