First-generation college students : a single case study exploring the frustrations and celebrations of earning a bachelor’s degree.


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First-generation college students make up approximately half of all undergraduate students in the United States (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, 2020). Despite this large population, only 26% of all first-generation students successfully complete college, indicating a gap of understanding between institutions of higher education and the first-generation community (DeAngelo, et al., 2011; Fry, 2021). Feelings of loneliness, being misunderstood by faculty and peers, psychological stressors, lack of financial knowledge, and the limited ability of family to help navigate the collegiate system have all been attributed to the aforementioned lower graduation statistics (Adams et al., 2016; Auerbach, 2006; Ceja, 2006; Dolby & DeRosa, 2014; Mofatteh, 2021; Noel et al., 2021; O’Neal et al., 2016; Potter et al., 2020). Overall, first-generation students struggle to feel understood, leading to retention issues and degree graduation. This single case study enabled me to connect with former first-generation college students who obtained their bachelor’s degree to understand their experiences, what areas of support mattered most, and which resources they needed on their educational journey. Implementing Schlossberg’s (2011) theory of transition as a theoretical framework, the single case study provided an opportunity to uncover in-depth, detailed descriptions of first-generation students’ experiences. Research findings provided evidence that first-generation students consider themselves self-sufficient, a positive designation that can inhibit this community from accessing campus resources when they need support. Hesitation, loneliness, burnout, and uncertainty about who to contact for support all impact first-generation students and prevent them from accessing the resources they need. Campus organizations geared toward this community exist; those who know about them and are comfortable using them do find success and support in these groups. However, students who struggle to seek support or are unaware of resources face difficulties in college. Consequently, this study’s findings indicate the need for centralized, optimized, and user-friendly systems where first-generation students can locate all campus resources through a simple search, eliminating hesitation and uncertainty while leaving the option to connect at the hands of the student. This process also brings potential for increasing university awareness of utilized resources, the frequency of use, and revealing any areas for resource improvement.