Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education & Educational Psychology

First Advisor

Tricia J. Stewart, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Nicole G. DeRonck, Ph.D., Ed.D.

Third Advisor

John L. Garland, Ph.D.


Research is needed on rural, first-generation college students and what supports them in attending and persisting at a private Catholic university. Specifically, this dissertation sought to understand participant experiences for those who attended Gaspar University, a Catholic university in the Northeast. Analysis of qualitative interviews, existing documents, and participant questionnaires identify the aspects of these student’s high school experiences and home life that enabled them to access higher education. The study also sought to identify the factors and experiences that contributed to their persistence in higher education. The conclusions drawn suggest that programs in high schools that set college-going expectations would be beneficial for rural, first-generation students to help them with creating their own personal college aspirations. Specifically, attention should be given to providing students with information not only about college majors but also the size, atmosphere, and support systems that various colleges provide. While in high school, students should also work to increase their executive functioning skills that can help students be successful once they are attending college. Additionally, colleges should offer a strong first-year experience for students that is particularly beneficial for first generation, rural students as this helps them to acclimate to college and provides them with a sense of community. It also provides them with skills and knowledge to increase their own ability to be successful in college. Lastly, the participants of this study connected to their faith while at their Catholic College and they believed that this advantaged them in a variety of ways.