Date of Award

Spring 4-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Dr. Susan Isenberg

Second Advisor

Dr. Deb Ayres

Third Advisor

Dr. Paige Mettler-Cherry


The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of first-generation college students and learn why they believed they persisted to graduation. First generation students are students whose parents did not attend college. Research literature on the topic reflects a the concern for first-generation students and their decreased likelihood of graduating college but the problem is there is a lack of information exploring why first-generation students believe they persisted to graduation. The research questions were: Who are the first-generation students at Midwestern University (MWU) who have persisted to graduation as measured by those who applied to graduate? When comparing first-generation students to non-first-generation, what are the similarities and differences between MWU students who complete degree programs? Based on MWU first-generation student responses to interview questions, are there patterns that emerge among first-generation students who persist to graduation? Participants of this study were students enrolled at MWU in the winter and spring terms of 2012, were enrolled in the final two terms of their degree program, and had submitted a degree application for May 2012 graduation. Qualitative methodology was used for this study using data gained from a demographic survey and individual interviews. Using qualitative methodology, data was collected from 220 demographic surveys and 22 face-to-face interviews. A statistical z-test was conducted on the demographic survey and the interviews were transcribed and analyzed through axial and open coding which identified themes related to why participants persisted to graduation. Seven themes emerged among first-generation participants related to first-generation students’ persistence to graduation: college preparedness, encouragement, adjustment, choice of iii major, faculty interaction, financial impact, and personal awareness. The salient finding revealed that first-generation students need encouragement in achieving their goal of degree attainment and in understanding and overcoming obstacles. Encouragement from family, faculty, staff, and course colleagues positively influenced first-generation students and was the main reason they persisted to graduation. Universities may benefit from repeating this research and comparing the results in addition to following first generation freshman cohorts. Programs designed for first-generation students, including programs for families of those first-generation students were recommended as future initiatives.


Copyright 2013