School of Education


Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction (EdD)


Gail Collins


first-generation college students, college and career ready, self-determination, competence, autonomy, relatedness




The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study was to understand the self-determination experiences of first-generation college students. For this study, first-generation college students were defined as students with parents who do not have any college education. The study examined students taken from a population of first-generation college students who are at least 18 years old, classified as a sophomore or higher at a university or college in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, and enrolled as either full-time or part-time students. The theory guiding this research study was Ryan and Deci’s self-determination theory. The research questions expounded upon the individual, self-determined experiences of these students considering the formidable challenges of the college experience. Purposeful, criterion, and snowball sampling were used to select 12 research participants for the study. Data were collected from the participants using one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and participants’ letters. Data were analyzed using transcendental phenomenological methods to ascertain a combination of the textural and structural themes that identify the essence of this phenomenal experience. The modified Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method of data analysis, as described by Moustakas, was used. The findings indicated that beginning in high school, first-generation college students need support and guidance. Support and guidance are critical during the first year of college for first-generation college students, but they will require support throughout their college journey. Finally, effective resources are needed to help first-generation college students overcome challenges and obstacles to achieve degree completion.

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