Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Donna Talbot

Second Advisor

Dr. Diane K. Anderson

Third Advisor

Dr. Douglas V. Davidson


Generational status of students is one of the variables that colleges and universities are starting to track and study in order to gain a better understanding of its impact on retention and persistence of students. This phenomenological study provides narrative from five first-generation, African American students who attend a predominantly White liberal arts college in the Midwest; their stories provide a snapshot of how they experienced college, made meaning of those experiences and the impact of these experiences and meaning-making on their motivation to persist in college. These five students participated in individual audio-taped interviews that were analyzed and coded. Six themes emerged that were descriptive of the students’ experiences. In order to demonstrate trustworthiness the themes and description of the themes were reviewed by an external auditor.

The first-generation, African American students in this study persisted despite facing isolation and discrimination in their predominantly White campus community. The students found mentoring relationships with White faculty, support from other African American students and Black student groups, and finding their own identity as an individual to be significant factors in their persistence.

In addition, limitations of this study are detailed and recommendations for future research on first-generation students are identified. Recommendations for practical applications of the findings of this study are made regarding how colleges and universities might use this study to improve services for all students. The most common recommendation from students in this study was to provide more role models by hiring more Black and African American faculty and staff.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access