Date of Award

Winter 12-22-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


Johnson, Dawn R.


College environment, First-generation college students, Higher education, Persistence, Retention models, Stress

Subject Categories

Education | Educational Administration and Supervision | Higher Education | Higher Education Administration


This dissertation examined predictors of retention and graduation for first-generation (FG), first-year students at a selective, private, residential university in the northeastern United States. The theoretical framework was Bean and Eaton's (2000, 2001/2002) Psychological Model of College Student Retention. The purpose of the study was to test the Bean and Eaton model and ascertain how students' entry characteristics, experiences, psychological outcomes, attitudes, and intent to return impacted retention and graduation outcomes. Previous research shows that FG students face challenges in persisting (Cataldi et al., 2018; Choy, 2001; Ishitani, 2016); yet it is through graduating from a prestigious four-year institution that they become positioned to realize the personal and life goals that led them to enroll in college (Darling & Smith, 2007; Longwell-Grice et al., 2016). This study was conducted at a private, residential, research university. Data came from institutional records and a student survey. An exploratory factor analysis accounted for most of the survey item variation. Path models demonstrated good fit to the data. Campus experiences impacted psychological outcomes, which—along with importance of graduating—impacted institutional commitment and indirectly, outcomes. Student racial/ethnic identity directly impacted retention, and family stress directly impacted four-year graduation. The study implies that institutions serving FG students should facilitate GPA and progress through academic support, positive engagement with faculty, and collaborative learning. Results also suggest that positive peer interactions in and out of class, in an environment free of racism and discrimination, with a demonstrated institutional commitment to diversity will increase the persistence of FG students. Institutions should leverage research to better understand their FG students to enact supports and environments that are most conducive to their success.


Open Access