Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Higher Education

Committee Director

Christopher Glass

Committee Member

Alan Schwitzer

Committee Member

Dana Burnett

Committee Member

Kimberly Griffin


Black immigrant-origin students are a significant sub-population of the total Black college student population, and they are persisting and graduating more frequently than Black U.S.-origin students. This study explored cultural capital and habitus and how they shaped the college persistence and graduation of Black immigrant-origin undergraduates and alumni from four-year postsecondary institutions. A basic interpretive qualitative design, guided by cultural capital theory, was used to explore thirteen Black-immigrant-origin students’ and graduates’ perspectives in-depth; and to describe their subjective meanings, actions, and social contexts from their point of view. Participants grew up with a habitus of achievement that came from the family wanting to attain the American Dream as well as racialized experiences they experienced in the United States. This habitus motivated participants to achieve. That same habitus got them into college also got them through college. They had to persist and graduate because they wanted to be able to give back to their families and communities; they wanted to prove their greatness to others; and because time, money, and resources were dedicated to their completion of college.

There were several steps the participants’ took to prepare for entering college and graduating. In their early years, participants attained cultural capital in the form of English as their primary language, and from the support of people in their churches who served as cultural resources. Some of the participants’ parents and older siblings had college educations, which exposed them to the rigors and requirements of college. Many of the participants were enrolled in academically rigorous college preparatory or high-performing high schools. In those schools, most participants were scholastically prepared for the rigors of college, given opportunities to gain college credit via AP and College Now courses, and went on college tours. Participants found high school friends who had similar cultural backgrounds and academic goals and supportive teachers and counselors. Furthermore, some participants were able to gain cultural capital from people or programs in their community and pre-college programs. In college, participants attained cultural capital through nurturing professors and academic support offices, participating in co-curricular activities and culturally-related clubs, and resourceful friends or acquaintances.


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