Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Dwight E. Giles, Jr.

Second Advisor

Joan Becker

Third Advisor

Ray Franke


Colleges and universities have seen an increase in the number of first-generation students accessing higher education. While this is certainly good news, the news is not as favorable when considering their retention and graduation rates. Compared to their non-first-generation peers, the retention and graduation rates of first-generation students are noticeably lower. The TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) program, offered on college campuses nationwide, is designed to mitigate the challenges that contribute to first-generation students’ inability to be retained and ultimately graduate. SSS in particular and college retention programs in general aim to provide the academic support that students did not receive in high school; introduce and equip students with the capital (informational, social, and cultural) needed to successfully navigate the college landscape; and foster personal academic and social growth and development using a student-centered approach. While SSS, the only federally funded college retention program in the United States, has been shown to increase retention of first-generation students, little research exists that identifies the specific programmatic elements that positively impact retention. This exploratory study examined the programmatic elements of SSS and their impact on the academic skills and abilities of the participants. A survey was administered to SSS program participants who had completed one full year of college and were enrolled in their second year. The survey questions asked the participants to rate their academic skills and abilities pre-SSS and post-SSS and to identify those programmatic elements that positively influenced their retention. SSS annual performance reports, required by the U.S Department of Education, were used to compare the retention and graduation rates for students enrolled in SSS versus non-SSS students. The survey results showed that the SSS program positively influenced retention from year-one to year-two and helped to improve participants’ academic skills and abilities. Additionally, annual performance reports showed that SSS students compared favorably to non-SSS students when examining retention and six-year graduation data. Other findings worthy of note included the recognition of the importance of institutional agents (e.g., program staff) and the role they play in helping students transition to college and build self-confidence.


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