Date of Award

6-27-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

John A. Anderson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Valerie J. Gunter, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Beth M. Mabry, Ph.D.

Abstract

This qualitative research study examines factors found in very-at-risk students contributing to degree or diploma completion. The purpose of this study was to locate the areas of their college program that contributed to their success, and to identify internal factors that were not readily apparent. Personal interviews provided an open-ended, in-depth exploration of the participant‘s journey through their educational program. The analysis of the data indicates that the academic programs and support services offered by the community college under study extensively contributed to the success of these graduates. Participants identified aspects of the college program that are valuable to the success of the students and provided details that can inform initiatives for improvement. The findings in this part of the study support Vincent Tinto‘s (1993) integration theory that student motivation and academic ability aligned with institutional academic and social characteristics lead to degree achievement and Bean‘s (1990) attrition model in identifying the contributing role of external factors to student retention and, ultimately, degree achievement. Non-academic factors that emerged from the data include: faculty relationships; other persons of support such as parents, extended family members, and friends; goals and faith; and personal qualities including determination, perseverance, and self-efficacy. Parents and faculty members emerged as highly significant to student success. Through cross-referencing, four themes emerged which include: dealing with failure, relationship with instructors, inner drives, and functionalism. Bernard Weiner‘s Attribution Theory formed the framework for explaining persistence through failure found throughout interview transcriptions. Participants strongly affirmed faculty and named ―heroes‖ who significantly affected their college experience and life as a whole. Prevalent also was the sense of something within that drove them and would not let them quit. The imagery of the fourth theme, functionalism, is that of a well-oiled machine (structure) that works (functions) well. Interviewees in this study described their experience at the community college as a supportive system working well on their behalf. This research offers insights to community college leaders and faculty directly from very at-risk students and delineates strengths and weaknesses useful for program evaluation.

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