First Advisor

Sandra Anderson

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work




First-generation college students, Low-income college students, College dropouts -- Prevention



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, viii, 287 pages)


his research addressed educational persistence among first-generation, low-income college students. The educational paths of 22 first-generation, low-income undergraduate students attending a large, urban university in the Northwest region of the United States were examined through a narrative framework. Half of the participants had persisted from year one to year two, and the other half left the university after their first year. Analytic procedures consisted of thematic qualitative coding, an analysis of student trajectories over educational histories, and the reconstruction of narrative stories. Data were used to examine: (1) How first-generation, low-income students understood and described their journey through their first year, (2) Reasons some students gave for leaving the university, (3) Meanings students gave to their experiences in college and how those meanings influenced future decisions, and (4) Differences between the stories of students who persisted versus those who left.

The first-generation, low-income students who participated in this study were individually diverse and took various paths through college. After prolonged contact, evidence of interrupted enrollment and transfer among colleges was shown for approximately half of the participants. The descriptive codes most frequently discussed were financial issues, aspects of self, and family. Students described motivations for college in terms of themes related to family, gaining practical skills, existential discovery, desire for the college adventure, and affirmation of personal attributes. Students left the institution as a result of academic challenges, external life events, financial difficulties, dissatisfaction with the college process, unclear goals or reasons for continuation, and a need to stay near family. Students who persisted in college indicated adequate pre-college academic preparation, social connection to the university, family support for continuation, adequate financial resources, and support from social and cultural brokers that helped them navigate college. Findings from this study suggest social class, financial, individual and family contextual variables be added to Tinto's (1975, 1993) classic model of student departure. Higher education policies suggested by data include partnering with families, reducing social class barriers and providing better information to students about the hidden costs of transfer and interrupted enrollment.


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