School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy


Lucinda Spaulding


Student Mothers, Persistence, Community College


Education | Higher Education


The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study was to describe the lived experiences of student mothers in the community college learning environment. Nationally, there are almost five million college students who are parenting a child under age 18, and in Texas, the number is one in four (Galasso, Harris & Sasser-Bray, 2018; Institute for Women’s Policy Research [IWPR], 2017; Noll, Reichlin, & Gault, 2017). Self-determination theory (SDT) by Deci and Ryan (2000, 2008) guided this inquiry by providing the lens to examine the lived experiences of student mothers. The central research question was: What is the lived experience of student mothers in the learning environment at community colleges in Texas? Participants were ten adult women community college students who were fulfilling parenting roles for their children under age 18. The settings were a large city, midsize city, and suburb-size community colleges located in Texas. Data collection consisted of individual interviews, a focus group, a self-report survey and were analyzed according to Moustakas’ (1994) methods. The three themes that emerged were: (a) access to and utilization of resources and services contribute to the ability to persist, (b) student-faculty interactions influence perceptions of the learning environment, (c) student services departments provide needed information to persist in college, and (d) student peer interactions are limited for student mothers with younger children but increase in program specific courses. Findings indicated the learning environment at community college is encouraging and supportive of student mothers. Implications from the results corroborate: the expanded use of SDT in developing supportive learning environments for student mothers, the need for resources and programs that assist with reducing nonacademic barriers, and finally student-faculty interactions were most influential on perceptions of the learning environment and on academic persistence.