Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Kathleen M Boyle; Buffy Smith; Victoria Svoboda


The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the lived experience of first-generation college students at two small, private, liberal arts universities. Initially, the study focused on the identity development of first-generation students and how their familial relationships and culture influenced their development. However, as the study developed, the college environment emerged as another significant environmental factor influencing students’ experiences and development.

For the majority of participants, family offered support and encouragement in their academic endeavors prior to and during college, which positively influenced their success and persistence in college. Additionally, many participants named professors as a significant source of support and mentioned feeling known and cared for by professors. Participants also found academic and emotional support through relationships with peers, which developed through classes, on-campus jobs, and extracurricular involvement. Overall, participants felt a sense of belonging at their institutions.

The community created around shared values at small, private institutions of higher education provided an environment conducive to the success and persistence of participants in this study. However, the majority of participants identified as White and middle class and attended predominantly White institutions (PWIs). Further study from the perspective of students of color at small, private PWIs would add to lessons learned about the influence of environment on the experiences of first-generation college students.


first-generation college students, family, environmental influences, private colleges and universities

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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