The Book

Breakaway Learners: Strategies for Post-Secondary Success with At-Risk Students

This powerful book explores how institutions of higher education can successfully serve “breakaway” students—first-generation, low-income students who are trying to break away from the past in order to create a more secure future. The gap between low-SES and high-SES students persists as efforts to close it have not met with great success.

In this provocative book, Gross offers a new approach to addressing inequities by focusing on students who have succeeded despite struggling with the impacts of poverty and trauma. Gross draws on her experience as a college president to outline practical steps that post-secondary institutions can take to create structures of support and opportunity that build reciprocal trust.

Students must trust their institutions and professors, professors must trust their students, and eventually students must learn to trust themselves.

PUBLICATION DATE: April 21, 2017.


  • Addresses flagging efforts to improve the educational progress of low-income students;
  • Focuses on the institutions that serve students as opposed to efforts to fix failing students;
  • Provides concrete strategies and describes their actual impact on individuals and institutions across the educational landscape, including opportunities for replication and scalability;
  • Contains illustrations to animate the book’s core concepts.


Available in the following formats: hard cover, paperback and ebook

Karen Gross is a Washington, DC–based advisor and consultant to non-profit schools, organizations, and governments. She was president of Southern Vermont College and senior policy advisor to the United States Department of Education. >READ HER FULL BIO HERE