First year experiences of low-income students at a public flagship university
Ramsey, James Louis
MetadataShow full item record
In order to improve the academic and cultural transition of low income, disadvantaged, first-generation, and working-class students at a public flagship institution, the purpose of this qualitative study is to listen as these students, with increasingly diverse background experiences, narrate their first-year experiences, including the summer program. While many of these students succeed academically and socially, too many others, with very similar circumstances and background experiences, fail to succeed. The research will focus on four very important questions: Who are the students described as low income or "at risk, academically and financially disadvantaged" in higher education? Why is access to public flagship institutions important? How do disadvantaged students achieve within a public flagship institution? How do poor, minority, and working-class students narrate their academic and cultural transition from their home communities to a new and challenging college environment? "North East University," the research site, is a large and competitive public flagship institution, situated in a region of the country beset by high neighborhood unemployment, low high school graduation rates, lack of homeownership, single-parent households, and poverty. North East has a sizable number of low income, first-generation, working class, disadvantaged, and racial and ethnic minority students, enrolled in the university through the "Academic Achievement Association (AAA), a state-funded compensatory admissions and supportive services program for economically and educationally disadvantaged students. The 16 study participants were drawn from students enrolled through the AAA program and participated in the 2010 AAA Summer Program. Participants were sought from across racial, ethnic, and gender backgrounds, and academic "high and low-achievers" were sought to participate in the study. Each participant was interviewed for approximately one hour about their early childhood, high school, and first-year college experiences. In addition, each participant completed a Demographic Data Form (DDF). Among a number of interesting and important findings, in the context of a highly stratified and massified system of higher education, this group of participants reported choosing to enroll at North East because of its reputation as a excellent academic institutions with good academic programs and high-demand, high-paying jobs and careers. Many participants described North East, in terms usually reserved for schools ranking much higher in academic reputation than North East, both nationally and internationally. Given low income and disadvantaged students' limited educational opportunities, the students perceived North East as clearly superior, in many ways, in students' minds, lesser opportunities in non-selective, two-year institutions. As a result, none of the participants expressed any willingness to attend a two-year institution. The students' narrated satisfaction with North East, compared with less well-regarded institutions, with little apparent regard for other peer institutions, or more highly regarded schools across the country, or competing with more accomplished students, attending superior institutions. From the participants' narrated perspective, North East University stood as a beacon of hope and opportunity in a sea of hopelessness and despair. Upon completion of studies, students' satisfaction with the academic experience and its return on educational investment, among other areas, will merit future investigation.