Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Melissa L. Swauger, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Melanie D. Hildebrandt, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Christian Vaccaro, Ph.D.


This research explores how family, school, and community influence post-secondary educational and career choices from the perspective of individuals raised in working class families in a rural county in southwest Pennsylvania. Twenty individuals participated in semi-structured interviews sharing their experiences in the education system, career decision making, family life, and their connection to their communities. Participants revealed how family, school, and community had a great deal of influence over their decision-making and perceptions of their futures. For example, parents’ advice and guidance were made in response to structural conditions and constraints their families faced including a reliance on schools to guide their children’s educational and career decision-making. Participants also suggested their school, located in an economically disadvantaged region that once thrived on manufacturing industries was ill equipped to guide them in a new economy. Finally, participants suggested they felt isolated and faced geographical barriers that limited their social/cultural capital, and shaped a worldview that made them feel constrained to their community. This research contributes to social class reproduction literature by showing that education and career decision-making are shaped within the contexts in which people live. Individuals in this predominantly white, working class, rural, area devastated by deindustrialization, find difficulty navigating educational and career systems and parents lack resources and experiences to help them. Moreover, poorly funded, broken education systems in economically deprived areas are modeled on past industrial jobs, not jobs available in a contemporary predominantly service sector. In many cases, individuals are limited in their education and career options. Many lack the resources they need to navigate career and education systems. Yet, most participants found ways to make ends meet, pursue their goals, and redefine their definition of success.