Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Low-Income, First Generation Students' Transition to and Perceptions of Community College
by Zisel, Matthew J., Ph.D., State University of New York at Stony Brook, 2018, 154; 10790548
Abstract (Summary)

Largely because it puts higher education within reach for all people, the community college is thought to play a vital role in the democratic functioning of American society. Partly driven by an ethos of American egalitarianism, low-cost and open access community colleges enroll, train, and educate nearly anyone who aspires to higher education. For low-income and first-generation college students, the community college serves as a primary vehicle for social mobility. Problems associated with low retention and graduation rates have lowered the public perception of community colleges and threaten to exacerbate growing concerns over income and wealth inequality in America. Therefore, it becomes important for policy analysts to explore and better understand the nature of community colleges in an effort to create improvement strategies.

This qualitative study seeks to understand the community college experience from the perspective of low-income, first generation students. It asked first year students about their background experiences and analyzed how those experiences shaped their transition to the first year of college. It also asked how low-income, first generation students perceived the community college in order to understand how students evaluate it and define its purpose. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to make sense of student experiences and to give voice to community college students who, as a studied population, receive far less attention than students at four-year colleges.

This study finds that low-income, first generation community college students lived experience includes managing class-based disadvantages; this made navigating their first year of community college challenging. Students had come to the community college expecting to learn skills that would help them to form new professional identities so that they could begin transforming their lives, making it possible to ascend the socio-economic ladder. In order to succeed in this new environment, students had to learn and adapt to a new set of social norms and expectations that the institution uses to socialize its students. Based upon the analysis of student experiences and perceptions, this study makes six recommendations to help improve student success which may lead to improved public perception and funding for community colleges.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Morgan, Richard H.
Commitee: Blau, Joel, Fineberg, Iris, Napoli, Anthony R.
School: State University of New York at Stony Brook
Department: Social Welfare
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 79/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Educational sociology, Education Policy, Higher education
Keywords: Community college, First generation students, Low-income students, Student experience, Student identity, Transition
Publication Number: 10790548
ISBN: 9780438188167
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