Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Communication and Information Studies



First Advisor

Dr. Deanna D. Sellnow


First year college student retention is important to colleges and universities nationwide (Bean, 2005). Most of the research on retention focuses on self-report data collected from students after they withdraw from the institution. The present study focuses, instead, on student stories about school, as well as at and about “home” during their first semester.

The experiences of students who transition from high school to college are sometimes likened to those of individuals who enter a new culture for the first time. Thus, this dissertation is grounded in cross-cultural adaptation theory (Kim, 1988, 2001), which posits that successful adaptation occurs via a stress-adaption-growth dynamic and a gradual process of acculturation toward the new environment and simultaneous deculturation from the previous environment.

Stories—in the form of in-class free writing assignments—were collected from 264 first-year college students three times during their first semester. These assignments were designed to capture students’ perceptions about their experiences and interactions at school, as well as their experiences and messages to, from, and about “home” as they evolved over the course of the semester.

A thematic analysis revealed the majority of stories about events at school were negative and an overwhelming majority of the stories about events at home were positive. A longitudinal comparative analysis revealed no decrease in the percentage of negative stories about experiences and interactions at or about school. Moreover, stories focused on positive school related experiences decreased over time while stories about positive experiences at or about home gradually increased over the course of the semester. For students who did not enroll for spring semester, the results were similar but more dramatic. A large percentage of non-returners were female, about half were first generation college students, and a majority reported “home” as less than 100 miles from the university.

More research ought to focus on what goes on during a student’s first year of college to better understand reasons for withdrawing. In doing so, college and university professionals will be able to work more effectively with high school officials, parents, and students to achieve success once they graduate from high school.



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