Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education



First Advisor

Roger Mitch Nasser

Second Advisor

Tammy Moore

Third Advisor

Aaron Hughey


First-generation college students experience many barriers transitioning to college, such as impostorism. Administrators must understand how the imposter phenomenon impacts student engagement, to increase retention. The researcher utilized a mixed-methods approach to explore the prevalence of the imposter phenomenon among community college and private university students. Furthermore, the study examined how impostorism manifested in academic and co-curricular settings. The survey sample consisted of 216 total participants, with 91 who identified as first-generation students. Eight students participated in the interviews. For the purpose of the study, first-generation students were those whose parents did not complete a bachelor’s degree. The researcher utilized three scales to examine imposterism and student engagement: Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale, Engagement Learning Index, and the Co-Curricular Involvement Experience Index. Descriptive and inferential statistics provided insight to the problem. Additionally, the researcher performed a thematic analysis from the interviews to enhance the quantitative data and understand the lived experiences of first-generation students who experience frequent to intense impostor feelings. Findings revealed that overall, there was not a difference between first-generation and continuing-generation students. In fact, most participants experienced frequent to intense feelings of imposterism. However, results indicated slight differences between first-generation students across institution type. First-generation freshmen experienced varying levels of impostorism at the two different institutions. The study also depicted a significant difference among first-generation freshmen across institutions in educational meaningful processing. Co-curricular experiences revealed a difference between first-generation freshmen quality of involvement, while first-generation sophomores experienced a difference in quantity of involvement across institutions. Qualitative results discovered many characteristics first-generation students assume as imposters. Several barriers included: fear of failure, the comparison of oneself to others, fear of negative evaluation from others, and the lack of a sense of belonging. These barriers negatively influenced the participant’s academic and co-curricular engagement. Several recommendations emerged for administrators, staff, faculty, and students. The importance of increasing awareness, providing training programs, and increasing overall support for impostorism can enhance persistence for students.

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