Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Donna Talbot

Second Advisor

Dr. Patricia Reeves

Third Advisor

Dr. William Arnold


African American, female, fìrst generation, college students, student experience, PWI


The purpose of this qualitative phenomenology study was to gain a better understanding of the experiences of African American, female, first generation college students attending a large, predominantly White research university and to understand what motivates them. The major research question guiding this study was: How do African American, female, first generation college students (in good academic standing) describe their college experience? The researcher asked the participants to discuss their challenges, how they responded to challenges, sources of motivation, and factors that contributed to their success in college.

Through individual, face to face, interviews with 10 African American, female, FGC students attending a large research university, participants described their college transition, and experiences. They explained how their collegiate experiences were shaped by pre-college occurrences, self-identity, parental influence and involvement, challenges, and affiliations with campus and community organizations. Five themes emerged: College Preparation, Parental Influence and Involvement, Relationships, Challenges, and Important Resources.

Participants shared stories of high school high achievement, and their strong sense of self and confidence attributed to parental encouragement, self-motivation, and positive high school experiences. Additionally, for these students, engagement in campus organizations were significant resources contributing to their success and comfort at the institution. A notable finding was that although students were prepared academically from high school with a history of high achievement, they still struggled in college. Students had difficulty adjusting to a large campus, large class sizes, less professor interaction, and acknowledged that they needed to adjust their study habits. Unlike other studies focusing on African American students, attending a PWI was not mentioned as a significant factor in their experience and was not discussed in the context of their challenges. Finally, participants identified strong support networks, intrinsic motivation and self-identity as factors that contributed to their college persistence and success. Specifically, economic status and background, family support, self-confidence, and spirituality were their strongest sources of motivation. This study contributes to the understanding of how African American, female, FGC students experience a large predominantly White university from their perspective and their strongest sources of motivation.

Recommendations for future research include looking at a broader population of students who were not as academically successful. Students of all academic levels have experiences worth being explored and need a platform to share their stories. It is also important to understand their motivation for persisting in college despite lower academic achievement.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access