Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Regina L. Garza Mitchell Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Patricia L. Reeves, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Anne M. Hornak, Ph.D.


Community college, students outcomes, transformative learning


This qualitative study explored the lived experiences of graduates from a recently established community college in the Dominican Republic (DR). The study sought to understand from graduates' perspective the influence of completing an associate degree at the first Dominican Community College, Instituto Técnico Superior Comunitario (ITSC), and if their experience was transformative. Enrolling in higher education initiates a potentially transformative journey, consciously or unconsciously (Taylor et al., 2000). These changes stem from personal reflections on new experiences, forming new beliefs and assumptions that infill life with new meaning (Brookfield, 1984; Mezirow, 1978). This phenomenon is evident in community college students who perceive this education as a "gateway to a new life vision" (Hoggan & Browning, 2019, p. 7). Existing literature suggests that community colleges can profoundly influence students' lives due to their societal mission. However, data emphasizes the need for intentional efforts within educational institutions to facilitate a transformative perspective (Illeris, 2015; Taylor, 2007). The actual changes in individuals become evident only at the end of the educational journey.

This study revolves around a central question: How do ITSC graduates feel their experience at this community college has influenced and possibly transformed their lives? I employed the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), a method focused on examining individuals' lived experiences and the meaning they derive from those experiences at a specific moment and in a specific context (Charlick et al., 2016; Smith et al., 2009). Transformative learning theory served as the theoretical framework for this research, extending beyond cognitive dimensions to encompass emotional and social aspects.

Data analysis revealed that participants unanimously affirmed that their experience at the community college profoundly transformed their lives. The findings confirm that community colleges have unique conditions that enhance the potential for individual transformative perspectives. Three themes emerged from this study: Solidarity Sense, Seeing Things Differently, and Confianza (A Place Where I Found Trust), which collectively offer a comprehensive understanding of how the educational journey propels individuals beyond their comfort zones, encouraging them to challenge preconceived notions and reshape their worldview. The theme of Solidarity Sense proved particularly compelling, extending beyond acquiring professional and personal competencies to position the community college as a catalyst for societal change.

The study recognizes the various barriers students face and emphasizes the crucial role of educational leaders and faculty in believing in students' ability to overcome these challenges. This collective belief fosters a supportive academic environment and empowers students to envision a future even when faced with uncertainty. Furthermore, this study provides actionable insights for educational leaders, advocating for the deliberate design and implementation of transformative learning experiences in higher education. It also reaffirms the societal impact of community colleges, aligning seamlessly with the democratic mission of these institutions on a global scale. This study stands as a testament to the transformative potential inherent in the community college model, encouraging policymakers to reflect on the broader societal implications of these educational institutions.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access