Date of Award

Spring 5-21-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Rong Chen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Katie Smith, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Christopher Irving, Ed.D.


first generation, college students, support program


First-generation college students make up one-third of the undergraduate population of college students in the United States. It is essential to understand all aspects of a first-generation student, their desire to persist in college, and their experiences while in college. Once they are enrolled in college, first-generation students will need additional help and support to guide them throughout this life-changing experience. This study explored the experiences of 13 students enrolled in a program that is specifically designed for supporting first-generation college students academically and socially.

The study used a narrative qualitative research approach. The participants were interviewed to explore their experiences as first-generation college students from their own perspective and through their own lens. This study was guided by the social capital framework and utilized Tinto’s theory of student departure and Astin’s theory of student involvement theoretical frameworks. The findings from the study show the effectiveness of providing a structured program to support the students during their onset to the campus and throughout their college experience. The program provided the students with the opportunity to increase their social capital and gather the means to support their persistence by providing the necessary tools and resources.

This study will help faculty and administration to recognize the challenges these students face, and to develop innovative support programs and tools to help them attain educational success compared to non-first-generation students. The study also highlights the need to provide additional funding and support for programs that increase access and persistence for first-generation college students. As the literature review demonstrates, once first-generation students have access, support, and motivation, they can and will continue to bridge educational gaps!