Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Tara L. Parker

Second Advisor

Katalin Szelenyi

Third Advisor

Lorna Rivera


This study examines the perceptions of identity of a category of students that has rarely been studied in the context of higher education. These are adults who have participated in GED preparation or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses in Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs. A college education is increasingly necessary for individual economic success and a higher quality of life, and a college-educated workforce is a major element in national economic competitiveness. Rates of college enrollment and persistence of ABE students, however, are low. The study seeks to determine how ABE students and graduates conceive of their identity as students: to what extent they identify as students at all; what they believe are the characteristics of a good student; and how their conceptions of being a student are influenced by prior and current educational experiences. The purpose of the study is to improve understanding of how to assist ABE students in making a successful transition to the college classroom.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight ABE students and six graduates from three ABE programs. Participants represented a diversity of ages, educational backgrounds, employment situations, and nationalities. Following a grounded theory method, data analysis was concurrent with data collection. Three themes emerged from the analysis: participants' perception of themselves as being on a journey; the importance of respect; and the connection participants made between the qualities of a good student and those of a good worker.

The grounded theory developed from these themes presents two aspects of identity as a college student: a striver identity and an academic identity. The ABE participants in the study tended to identity as strivers, with the attendant benefits in the area of motivation. To reach their long-term educational and career goals, however, ABE students must also develop an academic identity, which includes an explicit understanding of cognitive and metacognitive skills and learning strategies. The study concludes with recommendations for practice, policy, and research.