Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Valerie Gunter

Second Advisor

J. Beth Mabry

Third Advisor

Melissa Swauger


The purpose of this exploratory study is to assess the ways in which instructors teaching first-generation college students at a branch campus come to understand these students as being different from other students they teach, and if and how they develop teaching practices and pedagogies more effective for first-generation students. There is a shift within higher education as, for the first time, students from non-traditional, often disadvantaged backgrounds are attending college in rising numbers. Despite the large number of first-generation students in postsecondary institutions, there are distinct challenges and disadvantages faced by this student population, due to vastly different experiences in their childhood and limited capital. Now that access to college is available to a much broader array of students than in the past, educators must adapt to the changing characteristics of the students in their classroom (Betances, 2006). The practices and policies that are currently in place may not benefit students of a nontraditional background, like first-generation college students. Following interviews with 11 faculty members at a branch campus of a public university, the findings revealed that the faculty in the study encountered numerous challenges with first-generation students, with many lacking the preparation needed to teach this population. However, several strategies emerged that can positively impact retention and increase first-generation students’ capital. The seven key practices that came out of the study included a focus on faculty development and pedagogical training, ongoing collaboration between faculty and administrators, teaching with enthusiasm, encouraging students to take ownership of their education, clarity in expectations, descriptive and timely feedback, and real-world application of material using students’ life experiences. Implementing these practices will allow instructors to create opportunities for success for first-generations students and improve retention among this particular population of students.