Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ed.D. in Education

First Advisor

George McClellan

Second Advisor

Phillis George

Third Advisor

Stephen Monroe

Relational Format



First-generation students are often underprepared for college and have lower persistence rates (Balemian & Feng, 2013), and they face a unique set of challenges in their transition to college that many of their peers do not (Pelco, Bell, & Lockeman, 2014). Consistent with national statistics, data obtained from UM’s Office of Institutional Research, Effectiveness, and Planning indicate first-generation students at UM persist and graduate at lower rates than their peers whose parents have a bachelor’s degree.

There are many reasons why first-generation students have lower success rates, and, for some students, a lack of engagement is one of them (Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, & Terenzini, 2004). Tinto also links student engagement with persistence. “The more students are academically and socially engaged with other people on campus, especially with faculty and student peers, the more likely (other things equal) they will stay and graduate from college” (Tinto, 2012, p. 64).

This qualitative study focused on the perceptions that 19 first-generation students at the University of Mississippi have regarding the impact of campus engagement on their success at the institution. The three-part conceptual framework draws from the work of Banning and Strange’s (2001) campus ecology theory, Baxter Magolda’s (2001) theory of self-authorship, and Tinto’s (1993) academic and social integration theory. Consideration of these theories allowed for a more effective study of student behavior and how those behaviors might impact certain outcomes.

The interviews sought to address the following research question: What are the perceptions of interview participants as it relates to campus engagement’s impact on their success? A number of themes were identified: relationships are critical to success; membership in student organizations is a catalyst for success; and cohort-based learning communities provide critical support for student success. Additionally, barriers to campus engagement were found.

Recommendations for practice are provided, centering around enhancements in identification and support of first-generation students during pre-enrollment and throughout their time at the institution. A discussion of further research recommendations and limitations are also included.


Higher education



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