School of Education


Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction (EdD)


Fred Milacci


First-generation College Student, Family Achievement Guilt, Survivor Guilt, Cognitive Dissonance




The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological study is to describe how family achievement guilt is experienced by first-generation college students (FGCS) at a less selective, public, mid-Atlantic university. Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance was used to guide this study that explored the central research question: How do FGCS at a less selective, public, mid-Atlantic university describe their experiences with family achievement guilt? Sub-questions included (a) What factors do participants describe as contributors to their family achievement guilt?, (b) How do participants describe the impacts of family achievement guilt to both their home and college lives?, and (c) How do participants describe their efforts to minimize or remediate their family achievement guilt? Criterion and snowball sampling was used to select 11 participants from a less selective, public, mid-Atlantic university. Data was collected through a survey, individual interviews, and an on-line focus group. The data was be analyzed using the modified Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method of data analysis method as described by Moustakas. Through this analysis, three themes emerged to include (a) journey of leaving, (b) dynamic understanding of the college experience, and (c) pressure to perform. The findings in this study suggested the experience of family achievement guilt for FGCS is a progressive experience. Implications for these findings and recommendations for further research are provided.

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