• I Don‘T Know Who I Am—Considering Where I Came from: First-Generation Working-Class College Graduates Describe Their Journeys to Baccalaureate Degrees

      Weirick, Janet K.
      This phenomenological study explored recent memories of some of the struggles and joys that first-generation students faced in their college experiences as they successfully completed four-year degrees at a private liberal arts college in the Midwest. These lived experiences included personal and structural issues of individual identity, class identity, first-generation observations, campus experiences, and family relationships. Their stories will inform research and provide insights for professionals working to improve levels of college retention and student growth. First-generation college students are retained and graduate at a lower rate than second-generation college students and are consequently at risk for dropping out or stopping out of college before graduation. Current retention programs for first-generation students have been only somewhat effective in increasing their completion rate. This qualitative exploration of the lives of successful first-generation college graduates gives insights into how these students achieved their goals of a college degree, in spite of the great odds against them. These graduates were expressly aware of those odds as they negotiated systems of complex bureaucracies and formed relationships in various social settings. While meeting and maintaining academic standards, they needed to learn new middle-class languages, system codes, and geography.
    • Social Class Experiences of Working-Class Students: Transitioning out of College

      Huber, Carey Treager
      Issues surrounding social class are often overlooked and rarely discussed in higher education; however, they affect students and institutions in critical ways. Although research has demonstrated that social class is a predictor of access to college, retention, academic performance, overall undergraduate and graduate experience, and college completion, little is known about the effect of social class on students‟ transition out of college and into the workplace. This transition is critical to explore because research suggests that the way in which students approach their first years of work have an impact on future job success and satisfaction. A phenomenological method of inquiry was used to gain a more thorough understanding of the class-based experiences of college graduates who originated from working-class homes as they transitioned from college to the world of work and pursued their chosen professions. Interviews were conducted with 13 recent graduates of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (RHIT) who were first generation college students, received a federal Pell grant while attending college, and did not return to their hometown of origin after graduation. Findings indicated that participants were conscious of social class although they lacked language to define it. Participants illustrated three distinct transitions that they experienced related to college: transition into college, transition to life after college, and transition to work. Generally participants indicated that the transition into college was more challenging than the transition to work, as they were more aware of their social class and experienced more social class contrast. In general they experienced very few school-to-work transition issues. In terms of the transition to life after college, participants experienced a variety of challenges and obstacles related to physical relocation to a new city, financial management, and loss of a social network. After college, participants generally experienced changing relationships with family and childhood friends due to social class contrast. Finally, several elements of their undergraduate experiences were identified as aiding their transitions out of college including the curriculum, internship experiences, independent living, and supportive relationships with faculty and staff. The study adds to the general understanding of social class issues in higher education, provides direction for universities, and offers specific insight for RHIT into the experiences of their graduates. Based on the findings, recommendations for policy and practice additions and modifications are outlined for RHIT. Opportunities for future research are suggested.
    • The Experiences of Working-Class College Students Who Became University Presidents

      Springer, Mary E.
      Working-class students enter college lacking necessary capital to predict their academic and personal success making college success less likely than for middle class students (Bufton, 2003; Mack, 2006; Paulsen & St. John, 2002; Rose, 1997; Wegner, 1973). This same social class origin helps to define experiences, provides context for understanding these experiences, and ultimately can be a strong motivation to succeed. With the help of personal and professional mentors, strong working-class family values, and an innate drive to succeed, the university presidents in this study have survived in a culture in which they did not have the necessary capital to naturally be academically, personally, and professionally successful. With a strong proportion of today’s first-time college students enrolling directly from high school, almost 55% nationally, and almost 40% nationally coming from working-class backgrounds, the university presidents in this study have provided a strong insight into the experiences and culture of working-class college students and those who become university presidents (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2008).