Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Claude M. Hurlbert, D.A.

Second Advisor

Gian S. Pagnucci, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

David B. Downing, Ph.D.


This dissertation gathers and classifies the self-reported reasons students gave for withdrawing or considering withdrawing from first year composition (FYC) courses at an urban community college on the Gulf Coast of Texas (CCGC) between 2004 and 2008. With an average student attrition rate of 20% in FYC courses at CCGC, the research question began as the following, "What can FYC teachers learn from students' stories of withdrawing from FYC that can inform a composition pedagogy developed to increase student persistence?" A mixed methodology for gathering data included coding end-of-the semester questionnaires distributed to persisting FYC students plus conducting seven in-depth case studies of former students who had withdrawn from FYC. This study reveals the lived experiences of FYC students at CCGC as they struggle to attend college while juggling time, money, health, and family obligations, all factors which I have classified under the division "Student Circumstances." I hypothesized that these "Student circumstances"--including student entry characteristics plus events that happened beyond the teacher's control (illness, accidents, etc.) would account for the majority of reasons students gave for withdrawing from FYC at CCGC. The results, however, show the opposite to be true: the majority of students who withdrew from FYC did so for reasons outside of the division "Student Circumstances." In fact, 2 out of 3 participants who had dropped FYC at CCGC gave reasons for withdrawing that could be connected either to their levels of academic self-efficacy (belief that they could accomplish the course work), or teachers' classroom practices (including course policies), or both. Since students' academic self-efficacy and teachers' practices can both be impacted by teachers of FYC, the conclusion of this study explores the possible ways FYC instructors can amend their FYC courses to teach towards a "pedagogy for persistence." FYC teachers are encouraged to see themselves not only as professors of English but also as "sponsors of persistence" for their FYC students, then asked to consider how this expanded role might change their practices both inside and outside the FYC classroom.