Matthew Daily

Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, Ed.D.



First Advisor

Nicole Ralston

Second Advisor

Rebecca Smith

Third Advisor

Katie Danielson

LC Subjects

First-generation college students; Academic achievement—Research; College student development programs; Private universities and colleges--Sociological aspects


The purpose of this descriptive study utilizing survey research was to understand student perceptions about how private institutions support the persistence of first-generation college students. First-generation college students refer to those students whose parents or guardians have earned a four-year bachelor’s degree but may have some postsecondary college experience (Center for First-Generation Student Success, 2017). Today, 4.1 million students, or 33% of all students, are considered first-generation, yet only 20% earn a four-year college degree within six years (Center for First-Generation Student Success, 2019). Thus, it is critical to understand the landscape that exists for first-generation college students and what has allowed those that are first-generation to persist successfully at private institutions. Three conceptual frameworks were used to investigate student perceptions: Dr. Vincent Tinto’s (1975) Student Integration Model for Persistence; Dr. Laura Rendón’s (1994) Theory of Validation; and Dr. Tara Yosso’s (2005) Community Cultural Wealth model, which provided an asset-based framework to examine student experiences.

The study investigated third and fourth-year student perceptions (n = 541) at private colleges and universities (n = 34) throughout the United States. Results suggest that programs do influence the academic and social experience of first-generation college students. Findings included 82% indicated participation in some type of first generation program; 95% of students agree that their college or university has supported their efforts to earn a 4-year college degree, whereas 92% of respondents agree that their institution has specific supports and programs for first-generation college students. The most important conclusions of this study include: a) first generation students participate in campus programming at high rates; b) campus programs are impactful to first-generation students; c) Campus programs of various types create meaningful connections for first-generation students; and d) there is scope for improvement in program participation, program awareness, and program offerings.


Copyright retained by the author.