Paper Type

Doctoral Dissertation


College of Education and Human Services

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EdD)


Leadership, School Counseling & Sport Management

NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Leadership, School Counseling & Sports Management

First Advisor

Dr. Elinor Scheirer

Second Advisor

Dr. E. Newton Jackson

Rights Statement

Third Advisor

Dr. Jenny Stuber

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Anne Swanson

Department Chair

Dr. Elizabeth Gregg

College Dean

Dr. Diane Yendol-Hoppey


The purpose of this study was to understand the perceptions of first-generation college students of color in a predominantly White institution (PWI) who successfully completed the first two years of college. This qualitative research utilized semi-structured interviews to understand the perceptions of first-generation college students of color and how they viewed their secondary and post-secondary experiences. The conceptual framework was supported through the literature by analyzing the intersectionality of historical factors, socioeconomic status, critical race theory, and educational programs. Although these students of color faced the anxieties, confusion, and difficulties that all college students encounter when they transition to college, their challenges are heightened when coupled with other factors such as lower levels of college readiness, living in high crime communities, a lack of financial resources, a lack of family support, and limited knowledge pertaining to postsecondary education (Brown, 2008; Pascarella, et al. 2003; Strayhorn, 2006). Such factors create unique challenges for first-generation students of color, resulting in disparate academic achievement (Strayhorn).

Participants in this study were selected using a criterion-based selection process. This study aimed to give voice to 12 students who self-identified as first-generation students of color, were classified as juniors attending the University of North Florida, and who were a part of the Jacksonville Commitment program. The Jacksonville Commitment program was selected for further study because the program provided students with wrap-around services that supported first-generation students’ persistence and social and academic development.

Eisner’s (1998) educational criticism was the primary data analysis approach used in this study, supported by Hatch’s (2002) typological and interpretive analysis. Typological analysis divided the overall data set into categories or typologies. The four typologies identified in this study were: family relationships, socioeconomic status, resilience, and college retention and persistence. Interpretive analysis was used to extrapolate meaning and attach significance to the data. Thematics was used it identify recurring messages within the data (Eisner, 1998; Patton, 2002). Data analysis of the present study led to the development of three themes: (a) Students perceived that they persisted in college as a result of being exposed to a rigorous K-12 curriculum; (b) Students perceived that they persisted in college due to their support network; (c) Previous academic experiences contributed to the development of student self-efficacy.

Students in this study challenged the deficit model which suggests that students without resources will not achieve. Instead, they were more aligned with the asset model that connects student success with the positive attributes that they possessed. The major implication from this study is that first-generation students of color have a greater chance of academic success if provided focused supports and academic preparation in primary and secondary schools to prepare them for the collegiate culture.

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