Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Higher Education (EdD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


Michael T. Miller

Committee Member

Trevor A. Francis

Second Committee Member

Charles F. Robinson II


First-generation College Students


First-generation college students are students whose parents do not have a college degree, and they face numerous barriers in college. Yet, several first-generation college students (FGCS) are successful and are on-track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in four years. Their success is important because education is associated with increased income, quality of life, and social mobility, making educational attainment even more significant in Arkansas, which has both low educational attainment and high poverty. Little is known about what can be done to close the achievement gap. It is important to analyze what helped FGCS succeed so that higher education administrators, faculty, and staff can help other FGCS succeed.

The study used explanatory sequential mixed methodology to analyze the factors first-generation college students identified as contributing toward being on-track to graduate in four years. Data for the study were collected at the University of Arkansas, an Arkansas land-grant institution. Descriptive statistics and Pearson’s chi-square of independence test were used to analyze first-generation students. Focus groups of FGCS were conducted to understand the factors that contributed to being on-track and strategies for success. The study’s results indicated that ethnicity and changing the major college of degree program are not related to being on-track to graduate, but other demographic factors like age, residency, and ACT score are significant. FGCS faced multiple barriers like unpreparedness, financial obligations, and relating to their family members, but they were motivated to succeed by many factors, primarily believing that a college degree was necessary for a better life. They used a few strategies to succeed, such as active involvement in planning their course of study to maximize efficiency. Recommendations for both future research and future practice were made to help first-generation college students succeed.