Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Tara L. Parker

Second Advisor

Jay R. Dee

Third Advisor

Howard London


Enrollment in higher education in the United States has experienced significant growth in the last two decades. Growth is not only seen in the increasing numbers; diversity is increasing with more minority and non-traditionally aged students attending college. Many of these students are first-generation college (FGC) students; those whose parents have no formal education beyond high school (Warburton, Bugarin, & Nunez, 2001). Despite the fact that many FGC students choose to attend community colleges, a significant number are enrolling in four-year institutions, yet once there they lag behind non-FGC students in their college experiences and persistence, suggesting they are not fully benefiting from higher education. Scholars and policy-makers alike recognize that FGC students would benefit individually and society would benefit as a whole if these students experienced more success in college. This qualitative study explored the concept of college fit to gain insight regarding how to improve the college success of FGC students. A supplementary-complementary fit (Muchinsky and Monahan, 1987, Kristof, 1996, Cable and Edwards, 2004) and equity-minded (Bensimon, 2007) framework was used. Supplementary fit relates to the human factor, suggesting fit occurs when individuals share similar tastes or interests with others in the environment. Complementary fit occurs when the environment provides resources and opportunities that "complement" the individual. An equity-minded perspective attributes unequal student outcomes to institutional dysfunction rather than placing blame on the student. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 25 FGC students at three four-year institutions. Qualitative interview data were explored using a computerized text analysis package. Using meaning condensation, eleven major themes emerged from the study ranging from those that enhanced fit such as campus diversity and having friends, to those that detracted from fit such as academic guidance and connecting to campus. The findings suggest that FGC students do experience fit with their institutions in various ways, but that institutions may fail to meet some critical needs of FGC students which could contribute to lack of fit. Further research is warranted yet the current study points to several immediate implications for practice and policy that, if put in place, could enhance institutional fit for FGC students.


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