Date of Award
Doctor of Education (EdD)
Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
There is increasing acknowledgement of and concern over the growing social stratification in our society. This bifurcation is demonstrated in the widening gap between the wealthy and impoverished. A college degree is an especially critical asset in helping to break multi-generational cycles of poverty. Unfortunately, low-income and first-generation college students face daunting obstacles on their paths to college graduation. First-generation status and low-income status are each negative predictors of college success. This is a study focused on the success, as defined by persistence to graduation, of first-generation students from low-income backgrounds. It introduces faculty, college administrators, and policy makers to students from this background at a rural New England public college who were close to completing their college degrees. The research questions were (a) to what factors the students attributed their success, (b) what oncampus programs or services were helpful in leading to that success, and (c) how could factors identified as leading to success among these students be leveraged to assist the success of other students in this population? Criterion sampling was used to determine an eligible cohort. The three criteria identified were (a) first-generation status, (b) low-income background, and (c) likelihood of graduation, based on accumulated credits. Through qualitative interviewing I learned from these students to what they attributed their success. This research approach enabled me to gain in-depth information on the personal backgrounds of the individual students interviewed. The participants’ narratives – their life stories – drove the study. Extended quotes from respondents were compiled. Narrative analysis was used to code the data. Major themes that emerged included (a) the critical significance of faculty, (b) the value of support services, (c) the importance of flexibility in course requirements and delivery methods as well as program requirements, (d) the high value placed on positive reinforcement and feedback as a positive motivator, and (e) the ways in which the challenging aspects of their backgrounds, misunderstood as deficits (e.g., unvalued social and cultural capital), helped them to develop strengths instrumental to their success. The resulting recommendations focus on areas where the data indicated that institutional interventions could increase the likelihood of college retention and success. These include (a) better utilizing pre-arrival materials and programs as anticipatory socialization opportunities, (b) maximizing first-year celebratory socialization initiatives, (c) providing targeted support based on student background traits, (d) instituting faculty training and development focused on how their role and teaching styles affect student success, (e) reviewing strategies for informing students of services, and (f) leveraging the desire of students to assist their peers who have not yet realized their level of success. The hope is that the resulting knowledge gained will inform future practice as well as assist higher education faculty and staff to work toward the success of this student population.
Bergh, David, "Celebrating the “Invisible Middle”:" (2008). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 21.