• 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.