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Is it really up to me?: academic and life tensions for "double first-generation" college students

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This study examined the experiences of first-generation college students who were enrolled in online degree programs at a traditional brick-and-mortar university located in the western United States. These students were

This study examined the experiences of first-generation college students who were enrolled in online degree programs at a traditional brick-and-mortar university located in the western United States. These students were viewed as "double first-generation" because they were not only the first in their family to pursue a bachelor's degree, but were also among the first generation in the history of American higher education to pursue public, postsecondary education in an entirely online format. The research was designed as a multiple methods case study that emphasized qualitative methods. Being exploratory in nature, the study focused on participant characteristics and the ways that they responded to and persisted in online degree programs. Data was collected through research that was conducted entirely online; it included an e-survey, two asynchronous focus groups, and individual interviews that were conducted via Skype. Grounded theory served as the primary method for data analysis, while quantitative descriptive statistics contextualized the case. The results of this study provide a window into the micro- and macro-level tensions at play in public, online postsecondary education. The findings indicate that these pioneering and traditionally underserved students drew from their diverse backgrounds to persist toward degree completion, overcoming challenges associated with time and finances, in hopes that their efforts would bring career and social mobility. As one of the first studies to critically examine the case of double first-generation college students, this study extends the literature in meaningful ways to provide valuable insights for policymakers, administrators, faculty, and staff who are involved with this population.

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  • 2013

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A multiplicity of successes: capabilities, refuge, and pathways in contemporary community colleges

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Community colleges, like all higher education institutions in the United States, have not been immune to the increased national focus on educational accountability and institutional effectiveness over the past three

Community colleges, like all higher education institutions in the United States, have not been immune to the increased national focus on educational accountability and institutional effectiveness over the past three decades. Federal and non-governmental initiatives aimed at tracking and reporting on institutional outcomes have focused on utilitarian academic and economic measures of student success that homogenize the goals, aspirations, and challenges of the individuals who attend these unique open-access institutions. This dissertation, which is comprised of three submission-ready scholarly peer-reviewed articles, examined community college students’ conceptualizations and valuations of “student success.” The research project was designed as a multiple methods single-site case study, and the data sources consisted of a large-scale student e-survey, follow-up semi-structured interviews with a heterogeneous group of students, semi-structured interviews with faculty and administrators, and a review of institutional documents. The interviews also incorporated two experimental visual elicitation techniques and a participatory ranking exercise. Article One introduces and operationalizes the author’s primary conceptual perspective, the capabilities approach, to develop a more comprehensive framework for understanding and evaluating community college student outcomes. This article documents the methodological process used to generate a theoretical and an empirical list of community college capabilities, which serve as the basis of future capabilities-based research on community college student success. Article Two draws on the student interview and student visual elicitation data to explore the capability category of “refuge” – a new, unexpected, and student-valued purpose of the community college as a safe escape from the complexities and demands of personal, home, and work life. In light of recent efforts to promote more structured and prescriptive college experiences to improve graduation rates, Article Three explores students’ perceptions of their pathways through the community college using the participant-generated and researcher-generated visual elicitation data. Findings indicate that students value the structure and the flexibility community colleges offer, as well as their own ability to be agents and architects of their educational experience. Taken together, these articles suggest that student success is less linear and more rhizomatic in structure than it is currently portrayed in the literature.

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  • 2015