Making College Possible for At-Risk Students

Students are considered “at-risk” if they are from poor urban areas and are members of a minority group. These students are more likely to dropout, they have higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse, depression and criminal activity. Many programs for at-risk students focus on assistance for youth through elementary and secondary school. Once an at-risk student is ready to go to post-secondary education, there are a number of funding opportunities. Students should also investigate funding opportunities aimed at their specific minority group.

Federal and State Funding for At-Risk Students

The most well-known federal grant is the Pell Grant. It is available to any undergraduate who can demonstrate financial need. At-risk students generally qualify for these grants because they and their parents meet the financial requirements. Complete information on the Pell Grant and how to apply is on the U.S. Department of Education website

State governments are also good sources of grants and scholarships for low-income and high-risk students.  State education commissions are the starting point for locating these opportunities. A list of each states higher education agency can be found at An example of what may be available is the Idaho Minority and At-Risk Scholarship. Information on this program can be found at It is available to high school graduates who are Idaho residents with substantial financial need.

Grants from Organizations for Minorities

The United Negro College Fund offers over a dozen scholarships to African-American students. Their website is

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund provides scholarships to Hispanic students, particularly in areas in which Hispanic students are traditionally underrepresented, such as math and science. More information is available at

Because many grant opportunities are need-based, at-risk students and those from low-income households may be at significant advantage when applying for awards. These students should think creatively about how to find grants and scholarships, making a list of their characteristics and skills which might qualify them for an award, and thinking carefully about organizations which might have an interest in assisting at-risk students. These organizations may include state Elks Clubs, Kiwanis or Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, and religious organizations.

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