Date of Award

December 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


Cathy M. Engstrom


college access, college access programs, college experience, college success programs, First generation college students, higher education

Subject Categories



This research explored how 47 first generation college students at a private university in the Northeast used non-profit and government-funded college access and support programs to make meaning of their college-going journeys. The participants used college access programs to prepare themselves for, gain access to, and persist at a selective postsecondary institution directly after high school. This research asked what skills and knowledge do first generation college students learn through their college access and support programs? How do first generation college students use the skills and knowledge they obtained through their college access and support programs to help navigate their college-going journeys? Using the theoretical frameworks of Communities of Cultural Wealth (Yosso, 2005, 2006) and critical theory (Kincheloe & McLaren, 2002), I analyzed the participants’ counterstories and uncovered how first generation college students used college access and success programs to navigate a historically classed and raced education system. The findings centered the students’ stories, showed how college access programs became a form of capital within themselves for first generation college students, and provided students with the resources they needed to matriculate and persist in college. I then critically examined whether or not college access programs contributed to closing the educational gap in the United States and educational reform.


Open Access

Included in

Education Commons