First Advisor

Sorca O'Connor

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership: Postsecondary Education


Educational Leadership and Policy




Poor -- Education (Higher) -- United States, Social classes -- United States, Higher education -- Economic aspects -- United States, College students -- United States -- Economic conditions, Academic degrees -- United States



Physical Description

1 online resource (327 pages)


The problem addressed in this study can be stated thus: There are extremely limited numbers of students from the lowest economic class graduating from our nation's institutions of higher education. The challenge to institutions of higher education is how to improve access, support, and successful completion of higher education for students experiencing the most extreme poverty barriers.

Weber's (1946) social-class theory was selected to determine the meanings and interpretations of students from poverty backgrounds in regard to their success and perceived barriers to success in completing college. This theoretical construct is based on the idea that collectively held meanings arise from three distinct although related dimensions of life including, lifestyles, context, and economic opportunity.

Focus group interviews with a representative group of 24 people who grew up in generational poverty were the main source of data (Merton, Fiske, & Kendall, 1990). The focus group interviews were open-ended and designed to reveal the participants' subjective experience of completing a college degree (Schatzman & Strauss, 1973). A demographic questionnaire administered to 56 respondents was used to complement the focus group interviews. The grounded theory approach guided the data collection and analysis process (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

According to its objectives, the study results provided: (a) a description of the poverty-related conditions, (b) an overview of the early educational experiences of the participants, (c) a demographic profile, (d) an overview of perceived challenges and barriers to higher education and (e) a discussion of success factors.

The findings from this study would suggest five areas for educational improvement: (a) development of a campus climate sensitive to social class and poverty issues; (b) implementation of faculty, staff, and student social-class sensitivity training programs combined with curricular reform; (c) facilitation of connections to informal mentors; (d) articulation of connections between obtaining a college degree and earning a higher income; and an (e) exploration of expanding college partnerships with social service agencies that are geared to helping people in poverty.


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