Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ed.D. in Education

First Advisor

John Holleman

Second Advisor

Neal Hutchens

Third Advisor

Macey Edmondson

Relational Format



A significant population of higher education students are first generation students; students who come from a home where neither parent has completed a bachelor’s degree (Vasil & McCall, 2018). These first generation students experience a gap of education, knowledge, and support which creates a persistent problem of unequal access to higher education for first generation students (MacLachlan, 2017). This unequal access shows itself in barriers faced by the students coming from these first generation backgrounds of interconnected, heightened risk factors (Gardner, 2013).

This dissertation was completed using qualitative analysis to interview six first generation college graduates in the juris doctor program at the University of Mississippi School of Law. Using the intersectionality of theories from Tinto, Bourdieu, and Labaree, we are better equipped to understand these students. Tinto’s persistence and self-efficacy, Bourdieu’s ideas on socialization as related to cultural and social capital, and Labaree’s emphasis on the democraticizing benefits of an educated populace meld together in a lens through which to view these first generation college graduates in a juris doctor program. First-generation students fulfilling an educational pathway to the level of a juris doctor are uniquely situated to fulfill the democratizing benefits of an educated populace and can fill roles as mentors so desperately needed in their underrepresented communities. By reducing the barriers for these students, we can advance efforts of ethics, equity, and social justice in higher education for this populace.

This dissertation assessed the barriers to success for first generation college graduates in the juris doctor program at the University of Mississippi School of Law as well as the traits possessed by each participant that aided in overcoming these barriers. This dissertation in practice offers recommendations for practice and research based on the findings from the study including emerging themes of financial barriers, cultural barriers, fear and imposter syndrome, isolation, and lack of a legal mentor. A formalized structure of first generation success could be implemented to guide first generation college graduates in a juris doctor program in a manner that offers support and the tools needed to reduce the barriers for successful juris doctor completion.



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