First-Generation College Student Success: Exploring Experiences That Promote Community College Degree Attainment

Darryl Reome, Johnson & Wales University

Abstract

Many college students are the first in their family to enter college and earn a degree. These students are referred to as first-generation college students (Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, & Terenzini, 2004). Educational researchers estimate an increase of first-generation students on college campuses during the next decade (Light, 2006); however, statistical data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (Chen & Carroll, 2005) demonstrate that first-generation college students are less likely to graduate from college. Therefore, higher education leaders, working with first-generation college students, continue to be increasingly concerned about their inferior retention and graduation rates (Hand & Payne, 2008). ^ This qualitative, phenomenological study utilized ten, individual semi-structured interviews with first-generation students enrolled in their final semester at a community college, to obtain a first-person perspective about their journey toward degree attainment. The study was guided by the following research question: How do first-generation college students describe the experiences that contributed to their degree attainment? ^ Schlossberg's Transition Theory (Goodman, Schlossberg, & Anderson, 2006), involving coping strategies for individuals experiencing change provided the theoretical framework for this study. Utilizing qualitative interview data derived from audio and video recorded interviews, the resulting data were analyzed through a thematic content approach, and five key themes emerged from those findings. ^ The major findings include: the importance of parental support, especially maternal support, the depth of personal, educational, and professional goals and aspirations, the fact that participants felt underprepared academically for college level work, an increase in confidence, accomplishments, and overall self-worth. Finances and the ability to afford college was also seen as a significant factor when choosing and enrolling at a college or university. Additionally, the experiences that contributed to first-generation student degree attainment, included: having a support system in place at home, developing mature, adult relationships and collaborating with college faculty and staff, completing internship or volunteer work, accessing and utilizing academic support services and better understanding college level work, classroom expectations, and the financial aid process. Through the essence of student stories, the findings may provide higher education administrators with a better understanding of the issues associated with first-generation student degree completion. ^

Subject Area

Education, Community College|Education, Higher Education Administration

Recommended Citation

Darryl Reome, "First-Generation College Student Success: Exploring Experiences That Promote Community College Degree Attainment" (January 1, 2012). Dissertation & Theses Collection. Paper AAI3499814.
http://scholarsarchive.jwu.edu/dissertations/AAI3499814

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