Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Dr. Beth Goldstein


First-generation students who pursue graduate programs face a unique set of challenges and rely on their strengths to help them navigate their graduate programs. This study will look at how first-generation students have navigated their graduate course work. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 19 doctoral students at Magnolia University where participants discussed the challenges they have faced during graduate school and how they have navigated these challenges. This exploratory study uses social and cultural capital along with community cultural wealth as a framework to analyze how these students navigate not only their coursework but other academic and social aspects of graduate school as well.

Participants in this study faced a variety of challenges including lack of preparation, family, parenting, isolation, written and hidden curriculum, mental health, and funding. Challenges around funding were the most salient for the participants. These challenges were not a result of deficits of the participants but rather systemic inequalities.

While the participants faced many challenges, they also used variety of knowledge, skills and strengths to navigate the challenges they faced, including willingness to ask questions, work ethic, seeking resources and support, and undergraduate program participation. The participants’ use of their prior knowledge, skills, ands strengths challenges the deficit model used to examine first-generation students and supports the used of asset-based approach to research and practice related to first-generation doctoral students.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)