Date of Award

Winter 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Higher Education

Committee Director

Dana Burnett

Committee Member

J. Worth Pickering

Committee Member

Alan Schwitzer


College enrollment among first-generation students is on the rise (Choy, 2001) at both two-year and four-year institutions (Engle & Tinto, 2008; McCarron & Inkelas, 2006; Stayhorn, 2006). As this student population continues to grow, it is important to learn more about them and the factors that contribute to their success or failure. Through the use of focus groups, the purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the experiences of first-generation college students that impact their academic and nonacademic success. The research questions that guided this study were: What experiences do first-generation college students perceive impact their academic success? What experiences do first-generation college students perceive impact their nonacademic success? What challenges do first-generation students perceive themselves facing in relation to non-first-generation students? What personal factors do first-generation students perceive impact their college success?

The results revealed several themes that impact the experiences of first-generation students. Financial issues, support services, the role of families/parents, self-determination and campus involvement were among the top issues impacting their experience.


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