First Advisor

Guido, Florence

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Date Created



This qualitative study shares the complex stories of two low-income business students who attend a flagship, public university as out-of-state students with the purpose of understanding, describing, giving voice to, and discovering insight from their experiences. Throughout U.S. Higher Education history, there is a pattern of limited participation of students from the lowest income quartile, which leads to little being known about the experiences of students from low-income cultures of origin. This culminates in the lack of voice that low-income students have in higher education as they navigate an environment of class privilege such as the specific university in this study. Additionally, this critical cultural study co-constructs the rich stories along with the participants in order to make societal change. The two questions that guided but did not restrict the study were the following: (1) How do low-income students at a wealthy flagship institution make meaning of their experience? (2) How do low-income students at a wealthy flagship institution negotiate and make meaning of their academic, social, and extracurricular lives? The two students who participated were selected using criterion sampling and participated in weekly individual in-depth interviews over an eight-month period. Using crystallization as the method for data analysis, the study viewed the data through multiple lenses and allowed for continual reflection and revision that supports the corroboration of the findings in themes and patterns through a process that completely involved the participants. Five dominant themes emerged and were decidedly represented as the five-day workweek. Specifically the themes represent the participants' feelings that postsecondary education should be considered a second job because that is how they felt they treated it. The themes are: Day One: Another Planet, Day Two: Wall Flower, Day Three: No Free lunch, Day Four: The Cost of Good Grades, and Day Five: No Going Back. Additionally, the themes re-emphasize that each participant worked incredibly hard every day, and it was not just limited to classroom learning or just doing well on exams. The attitude of tirelessly working on anything the participants tackled was evident in this study as well. As a whole the stories in this critical cultural study represent a fraction the experiences of the two participants framed in a taboo and often overlooked topic of class. My hope is to bring a discussion about class and the low number of students from low-income backgrounds front and center to a discourse that increases the awareness that class does matter. As a result of increased awareness, change can begin. Recommendations are offered for researchers and professionals in student affairs to create the groundwork for better environments that support and encourage low-income students through their higher education journey.

Abstract Format



Critical Cultural Study; Low-income College Students; Qualitative Study; Socio-economic class; Higher Education


233 pages

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