Date of Award

Winter 1-15-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Individual & Interdisciplinary Studies

First Advisor

Frank Trocco

Second Advisor

Larry Daloz

Third Advisor

David Hartranft


This qualitative, phenomenological study situated in grounded theory aimed to identify the forces that impede or support white working-class males in pursuing, adapting to, and remaining in higher education and making meaningful progress in their educational goals. Utilizing a feminist ecological perspective, the researcher was able to outline and provide context of the white working-class male experience in America. The primary research question guiding this study involved the ways in which white male working-class identity affects white working-class males’ return to higher education. An inductive approach involving Relational-Cultural Theory allowed for an in-depth exploration of the lived experiences of 10 white working-class males, each of whom gave up on their college education in favor of returning to their blue-collar occupations. Based on a two-tiered analysis, a case study analysis of three men led to the emergence of the following five themes: family of origin, religious and political views, hard work, higher educational attitudes, and attitudes on privilege. Next, a narrative analysis of all 10 men resulted in three additional themes, including devaluing education, geographic loyalty, as well as prejudice, racism, and sexism. Overall, these themes indicate white working-class males may not be able to truly “see” the problem, as they are within the safety of an identity that rejects higher education because belonging to the working class brings with it an inherent identity. Yet as the value of higher education continues to grow, they risk being left behind as they hold on to their ideals and identity as the sole breadwinner in the family. White working-class men and their location in American society and class structure also face continued internal and external threats to their perceived power. While educational pursuits can expose vulnerabilities, perseverance through the uncomfortable can become a transformative process.

Keywords: Working class, higher education, white male identity, feminist ecological perspective, class structure, privilege



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