Degree Date


Document Type

Dissertation - Public Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Academic Discipline

Community College Leadership


A college education is, for many in America, part and parcel of the American Dream, and is certainly achievable. For countless reasons, students may enroll at community colleges underprepared, unprepared, anxious, and destined for a high risk of failure. Although community colleges are higher education institutions open and accessible to all who want to pursue an education, some degree programs are selective enrollment programs, such as nursing. Considering the stringent admission criteria and rigors of an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program, few are admitted. However, due to the pending shortage of registered nurses, assistance programs to help high risk nursing students succeed in school and pass their licensure exams to become RNs are needed for the future of the profession.

The purpose of this exploratory study is to identify factors of the successful Gateway/HRNS program embedded in the community college Associate Degree in Nursing program that fostered student retention, graduation and passing of the NCLEX-RN licensure exam on the first attempt. A qualitative case study methodology was utilized for this comprehensive program evaluation of one very successful ADN nursing program in a Midwest community college. Interviews of graduates of this high risk nursing program, focus groups of faculty teaching in the program, and archival and current document analysis were used to determined program factors that have helped high risk students over the past twenty years to succeed and become licensed, employed RNs.

Findings revealed that students and faculty highly valued three components of the high risk nursing student assistance program. These components were a) a pre-nursing summer introduction to nursing component comprised of many small courses; b) a mid-curricular second summer LPN option component; and c) regularly-scheduled weekly tutoring sessions throughout the two years of the ADN program. The most valued experience, according to program graduates, was the mid-curricular LPN Option course, which is mandatory for these high risk students and optional for other nursing students. It was felt this second summer component in the assistance program helped students to integrate nursing theory coursework and clinical which provided a substantial benefit as they entered their final year of the ADN program.

As a result of this study’s findings, the O’Sullivan Strive to Thrive (S2T) Model for Student Success was developed to enable community college nursing leaders to develop assistance programs for high risk nursing students. There are eight steps in the Strive to Thrive (S2T) Model, designed to help ADN leaders and faculty promote and orchestrate the successful persistence and graduation of high risk students. Also included are directions for each of the steps as well as corresponding useful forms. This model to plan and design assistance programs for high risk students can be adapted by nursing department leaders in community colleges, as well as other nursing program venues and degree programs.