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PHD - Doctor of Philosophy




The purpose of this qualitative study is to examine the experiences of first-generation female students at four-year private institutions of higher education. Improving student retention and degree-completion rates has been a long-standing goal of the higher education community. Despite the attention devoted to student retention since the 1970's, only half of the students who enroll in institutions of higher education obtain a degree within six years of initial enrollment. This study considers the experience of college success, interpreted as degree completion, at four-year private institutions of higher education of nine first-generation female students. The results of nine in-depth interviews illuminate the effort and commitment to success it took for this small group of women to overcome significant barriers in their personal lives and in the education systems they navigated. This research depicts the complex context created by the intersection of the personal, family, social, and economic aspects of the participants' lives. Their pathway to college, including their college search and choice process is problematic; uninformed about the differences in quality and other characteristics across institutions of higher education as well as the associated costs. The study’s results highlight that our education system falls short of facilitating a successful transition from K-12 to higher education for the participants. The results also illustrate the participants' college experience as challenging, isolating, taxing, uncertain, and filled with stress. They are motivated, however, to succeed even in the face of the most daunting barriers because earning a college degree means something very significant to this group of women; it represents a way out of their uncertain and difficult life circumstances.



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