Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Year of Publication


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Jane Jensen


Often students face their most challenging life decisions and periods of growth during college. Engagement and involvement with their institution helps students develop socially and academically; some research shows that involvement can support other students’ needs as well. The goal of this project is to explore the ways in which students perceive their agency or sense of freedom of choice relative to their college engagement. Using multi-level data collection, consisting of a background recruitment survey and two interview sessions, the data generated in this layered approach came from the third-year student cohort at one state university in the southeastern US. Analysis of the data highlights the difficulty of transitions to college, building decision-making skills, learning about themselves and their identities, and developing communities. Details about college engagement pathways from high school to and through the first years of college were all analyzed to explore students’ perceptions of feelings of agency, decision-making capabilities, identity and personal awareness, and movement toward adulthood. Although not the focus of study, additional questions were asked regarding the students’ experiences with involvement and personal development during the turbulent period of their fourth semester when forced to leave campus as a result of COVID-19 prevention policies. Increased sense of agency and development toward adulthood occurred throughout the students’ pathways to and through college; however, students’ first engagements when they arrived on campus often had a huge impact on this growth and on establishing their plans for the future.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

University of Kentucky, Education Policy & Evaluation Department

EPE Departmental Dissertation Research Funding