Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership

Committee Director

Dana D. Burnett

Committee Member

Wendy E. Scott

Committee Member

Dennis E. Gregory


An increased effort to improve the retention percentages and number of college graduates must address the unique characteristics and experiences of the traditional-aged community college student population. Models of student departure and attrition seek to explain why a student stops attending a college through the analysis of quantitative data. These data, whether about student demographic characteristics, academic intent, institutional factors, motivational factors, etc. are used abundantly to predict persistence and retention patterns of 4-year college and university students. Perceptions and experiences of traditional-aged community college students relating to persistence and retention is an area of higher education research with insufficient coverage. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand, describe, and interpret perceptions and experiences of traditional-aged community college students associated with persistence. This study involved face-to-face semi-structured interviews with 15 participants to collect their experiences with continuing community college attendance from one semester and one year to the next. The interviews were analyzed and themes were developed using Moustakas’s modification of van Kaam’s method. Seven themes emerged from the study: 1) financial characteristics, including concern about cost, financial aid, and working while enrolled, 2) early anxious thoughts, 3) undecided, 4) family support, 5) determination and self-motivation, 6) on-campus engagement and involvement, including course experiences, professor interactions, counseling and advising experiences, and college staff interactions, and 7) plans to transfer. The study revealed that traditional-aged community college students face a number of factors in their decisions to persist. Although students may experience frustrations, setbacks and manage a number of responsibilities, their determination and self-motivation help them to reach their educational and career goals.