Low-income students earn bachelor's degrees at significantly lower rates than their high-income peers. This qualitative study interviewed 21 Fall 2008 full-time first-year Pell Grant recipients in May 2012 when almost all were near the point of baccalaureate degree completion at a large urban doctoral-granting institution with very high research activity. The Persistence Pyramid was a conceptual framework created by the author to organize the previous persistence research into four thematic areas related to individual student factors that affect persistence, and four thematic areas related to campus-based environmental factors that affect persistence. The four student areas include economic, social, psychological, and academic factors. The four campus factor areas include educational and curricular support, support for diversity and community, involvement opportunities, and a caring culture. The Persistence Pyramid was employed as a lens to ascertain which factors have the greatest impact on persistence from the perspective of successful low-income students. The study utilized a case study approach to illustrate how various factors interacted with each other to enhance persistence, hinder persistence, or mute negative risk factors. The Persistence Pyramid was a useful framework for illuminating which themes were most salient to the persistence of low-income students. The persistence factors related to economics were the most prevalent and had the greatest effect, potentially negative, on students' persistence. These economic factors also interacted the most with other persistence factors, often preventing the full utilization of persistence enhancers that students could have employed to their advantage. Seven other factor areas in the Persistence Pyramid were found to be relevant and all had particular themes of persistence that illustrated factors that helped or hindered persistence for low-income students. Two particular themes emerged as especially helpful in students' ability to persist. Under the social area, relying on friends for emotional support and academic assistance was especially useful for these students. Under the involvement area, over three-fourths of students served as a mentor or tutor and most of these students indicated that this experience was one of the most beneficial in improving their ability to persist to degree completion. Employing a pragmatic perspective, this study has numerous implications for recommendations to improve the baccalaureate attainment rate for low-income students. Suggestions for increasing baccalaureate degree attainment for low-income students include: Institutions could provide low-income students with campus jobs that will build career-specific skills. Institutions could develop programs to ensure that all students have a mentor and serve as a mentor. Student-service personnel could develop ways for students to utilize campus resources and support services earlier in their college careers. Students could ensure that they take advantage of numerous involvement opportunities, especially serving as a mentor or tutor. Students could make an effort to establish deep friendships and provide emotional support and encouragement to each other. Students could spend time studying with friends and classmates and serving as academic resources for each other.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. November 2013. Major:Educational Policy and Administration: Advisor: Darwin D. Hendel 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 317 pages, appendices A-F.
Opatz, Leslie Joseph.
The persistence pyramid: factors related to persistence for low-income students in baccalaureate programs.
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