Education Doctorate

Year Approved


First Advisor

Nichols, Pauline


The purpose of this qualitative, ethnographic study was to identify the cultural norms, beliefs, languages, values assumptions and rituals of first generation college students from rural, low socioeconomic status in order to better understand how social and cultural capital create obstacles that affect persistence in rural, low socioeconomic status students. The study was conducted at one, liberal arts college in rural Pennsylvania. All participants were the first in their family to attend college, had grown up in two or more generations of poverty, and lived in rural areas. Data were collected in two phases encompassing two academic semesters. Participant observation, key informant interviewing and artifact investigation were the primary data collection techniques. Through the data analysis, five values assumptions emerged: (1) Previous Life Experiences and Home Life; (2) Fatalism; (3) Coping Skills; (4) Social Pressures; (5) Lack of Understanding and Trust. These values assumptions contributed to the participants’ cultural capital, which functioned as a barrier to these students’ success. The implications of this study show a great need for more support systems for this unique cohort of students. The results of this study were used to develop recommendations for higher education practitioners, academics, and educational policy writers.

Degree Name

Education Doctorate

Document Type

Doctoral dissertation