Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

Gerardo L. Blanco

Second Advisor

John Saltmarsh

Third Advisor

Joan Becker


Students whose parents did not go to college, also known as first-generation college students, often enter postsecondary institutions faced with immediate challenges navigating their higher education experiences. Lower cultural capital often impacts first-generation students’ persistence from year to year as well as their understanding of higher education. Despite resources such as TRIO programs and community programs created specifically for first-generation students, national persistence rates among these students remain lower than those of continuing-generation college students.

Leadership development programs have proved effective at not only developing the leadership skills of college students, but also providing personal development. Research has shown that leadership development programs increase students’ self-awareness, critical-thinking skills, and self-efficacy. Programs that use leadership frameworks such as the social change model for leadership development or the leadership identity development model have helped students become stronger leaders on campus and heightened their ability to influence their higher education environments.

This study sought to understand how leadership development programs influence first-generation college students’ decisions to persist at higher education institutions. The study used case-study methodology to examine three institutions’ leadership development programs to understand how students’ persistence was influenced by their experience with these programs. Additionally, the study uncovered how students’ understanding of higher education evolved after their participation in the programs. Using phenomenological-style interviewing with students in each case, the study showed that leadership development programs are an effective means of increasing students’ understanding of higher education, building leadership comprehension and skills, and enhancing personal development.


Free and open access to this Campus Access Dissertation is made available to the UMass Boston community by ScholarWorks at UMass Boston. Those not on campus and those without a UMass Boston campus username and password may gain access to this dissertation through resources like Proquest Dissertations & Theses Global or through Interlibrary Loan. If you have a UMass Boston campus username and password and would like to download this work from off-campus, click on the "Off-Campus UMass Boston Users" link above.