Date of Graduation

8-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Higher Education (EdD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders

Advisor

James O. Hammons

Committee Member

Ketevan Mamiseishvili

Second Committee Member

Daniel Kissinger

Third Committee Member

Suzanne McCray

Keywords

Education; Achieving the dream; Community college; Higher education; Low-income students; Pell Grant; Pell-grant; Student success

Abstract

Poverty in the US is growing at an alarming rate. The current economic climate demands higher education to embrace the economic diversity of all students and to prepare them, regardless of economic class, for a globally competitive workplace. Unfortunately, the higher education community is not as adept at serving low-income students, as it is middle- and upper- income students. Low-income students are less likely than their more affluent peers to enroll in college or graduate. Employing qualitative narrative methods, this dissertation explores the factors that contributed to the persistence and success of 18, low-income, community college students. This study addresses the following research question: What influences students from poverty to enroll and succeed in college? The researcher conducted an interview study utilizing semi-structured and open-ended questions. Purposive sampling identified four Achieving the Dream Colleges as the research sites. The study included interviews with highly successful, Pell Grant recipients in community colleges who came from diverse backgrounds. The participants had a 3.0 GPA or above, and they were enrolled in their second consecutive year of coursework. Interviews were recorded and transcribed. The researcher used multiple sites, collected rich and thick data, developed a comprehensive audit trail, maintained a reflexive journal, and participated in prolonged engagement in an effort to address issues of trustworthiness. The seven findings of this study illuminate the variables that influenced the participants' decision to attend college, the resources that supported their successful transition into college, the hardships endured due to a lack of adequate financial resources, the individual attributes that contributed to the participants' successes, the college interventions and programs that the students deemed to be critical, and the people who encouraged their college enrollment and persistence. In addition, the participants made timely recommendations to other low-income students, educational

practitioners, and policy makers. Findings from this study point to the need for a heightened awareness and understanding of the experiences of this marginalized and underserved group. Feedback from low-income students should be used to shape federal, state, and campus programming and planning. The findings of this study demonstrate ways that educators and policy makers could potentially improve the enrollment and persistence of students from poverty.