Date of Award

Spring 5-22-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Eunyoung Kim, PhD

Committee Member

David Reid, PhD

Committee Member

John Melendez, PhD


College Completion, Funds of Knowledge, Student Support Services


Despite a college degree being a prerequisite for economic and social mobility, many low-income students graduate at far lower rates than students from wealthier families. Existing research suggests that low-income students are more likely to attend college less prepared to succeed once they get there, experience financial challenges, have difficult navigating the complex higher education system, and have multiple obligations outside of their academic responsibilities, resulting in low completion rates. Much of the previous literature is rooted in in a deficit framework suggesting that low-income students are lacking or deficient if they are not academically successful. This study departs from the deficit paradigm by investigating how low-income students participating in a Student Support Services program at a Hispanic Serving Institution leverage their funds of knowledge and social capital to persist and graduate college.

Findings suggest that low-income students have diverse needs and use a combination of relationships with family, peers, professional staff, and faculty to gain the knowledge, skills, and experiences that helped them overcome their barriers in college. Moreover, those who leave college should not be viewed negatively. As demonstrated by the participants who stopped out during their college career, they did not give up but left college temporarily to resolve the issues that kept them from staying enrolled, and those who did not return understand the importance of graduating and plan to return to college. As colleges and universities search to find ways to increase college completion, the findings from this study will add to our theoretical understanding of successful practices that keep low-income students on a college completion path rather than highlighting student deficits.