Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

First-year Experiences Among Undergraduates at a Broad-access Baccalaureate Institution
by Ramirez, Carolina, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2019, 224; 27540240
Abstract (Summary)

Early undergraduate experiences influence retention and student success. The first year of college is a time of great transition when students gather feedback about their abilities and fit with their campus. With the aim of informing how first-year experiences can impact undergraduate success, this study shares narratives of how 17 first-year students transitioned into a broad-access four-year university. This dissertation also shares how participants explained the impact that peer, faculty, and staff interactions had on their perceptions of their academic abilities and sense of belonging on campus.

This dissertation study uses purposeful sampling and narrative analysis (Creswell, 2007). Seventeen participants were interviewed three times during their first-year (the beginning of fall semester, the beginning of spring semester, and the end of spring semester). All participants were: (1) first-year students at a broad-access baccalaureate institution, (2) first-generation college students, (3) placed into developmental education, and (4) part of a learning cohort community. This study uses several models of student success to frame its understanding of participants’ unique pathways into college and early undergraduate experiences. This framework also allows this study to highlight: (1) the importance of faculty, staff, and peers in affirming participants’ perceptions of themselves as learners and (2) instances that affirmed participants as assets to the wider campus community.

This dissertation finds that participants chose their campus because they were familiar with it, it was near their hometowns, and they perceived it as affordable. Primarily, in no small part because many lived off-campus, participants went to campus to attend classes, and they did not much engage in student organizations or campus life. All participants started the school year intimidated, worried, and scared that they would not be academically successful. While, by the end of the year, most participants felt comfortable with their ability to complete college-level work, they did not describe a linear progression from feeling scared to feeling confident. Concerns about their academic abilities permeated throughout the year. Faculty guidance on assignments, efforts to get to know participants, and feedback on coursework contributed to improvements in participants’ outlook and study behaviors.

All participants were members of a learning cohort program. Sharing classes with the same peers provided participants multiple opportunities to organize study groups. In addition to acting as spaces where participants could develop their academic skills and better understand their role as college students, study groups also allowed participants to develop friendships, nurture their sense of belonging, and increase their enjoyment of college. As stated earlier, many participants did not spend much time on campus outside of classes, and relationships with classmates, as well as faculty validation, were instrumental to participants’ sense of belonging on campus. This dissertation highlights the important work that peers, faculty, student services staff, and other institutional agents at a broad-access four-year university can do to promote a smooth transition into college for undergraduates.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kurleander, Michal
Commitee: Cuellar, Marcela, Quijada, Patricia D
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Education
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 81/8(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Higher education, Education
Keywords: Broad-access universities, California higher education, First-generation college students, Learning cohort communities, Student success, Validation theory
Publication Number: 27540240
ISBN: 9781658413008
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