Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Nash, Robert


Second-generation college students comprise a large majority of the collegiate population. The research on this population strongly suggests that their knowledge, capitals, and the support received from their parents gives them a “jump start” in higher education in comparison to their first-generation peers. The positive exposure to higher education received by second-generation college students is asserted to be directly linked to their parents' experiences in higher education. Second-generation college students are assumed to possess the basic knowledge for successful navigation of the college experience. As a second-generation, African-American college student, I carried a high level of expectation and numerous assumptions about what my experiences would be like in the academy. I assumed that my mother's college education would have a positive effect on my college journey. As my college experience unfolded, I found myself severely deficient when it came to basic collegiate knowledge and survival skills. The radical changes in higher education that had occurred during the twenty years between the collegiate experiences of my mother and me greatly decreased my mother's ability to pass on knowledge that was still up-to-date and practical for my experience. My journey through college was nothing like the second-generation student literature suggested. My experiences in higher education closely paralleled those associated with the first-generation student population. The challenges I faced included social, cultural and racial integration, course and major selection, reduced parental involvement and financial strain. I have since come to view myself as a first-generation college student amid second-generation college student assumptions and expectations. Through the use of Scholarly Personal Narrative methodology, this dissertation seeks to bring into focus a hitherto hidden population in higher education. These are the students, who in spite of having at least one parent or guardian with a college degree, do not know how to navigate the college journey; these are the students who feel like imposters in the academy because it is assumed they are better equipped to navigate the institution. In this dissertation I draw upon numerous studies of first-generation and second-generation college students to create an empirical understanding of the dual and dueling narrative I occupied during my undergraduate experience. I explore concepts of cultural and academic capital as being vital in my ability to master the college environment. I introduce for the first time in the literature a concept I call “values capital.” I also discuss the salience of social class identity in the pursuit of higher education in order to frame a narrative of my own self-empowerment and subsequent integration into higher education. In addition to a number of empirical studies, I will draw upon biographies and my own personal narrative to elucidate the universal themes of self-empowerment, authenticity, insecurity, ambition, and meaning-making—themes that all second-generation-on-the-outside but first-generation-on-the-inside students must confront if they are to be successful in higher education.