Traditional-Age, First-Generation College Women: The Influence of Interpersonal Relationships on Their Academic Experiences
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The number of women matriculating to college and successfully earning their degree continues to rise; all the while, college campuses continue to see a steady incline in the enrollment of first-generation students. Despite the fact that these two populations continue to grow, both still face many barriers while attempting to succeed in college. Although there is an abundance of literature on these two populations separately, there has been little focus on the perceptions and experiences of traditional-age, first-generation college women. There is a limited understanding of how these students perceive the ability of college environments to meet their social and emotional needs. In order to resolve this oversight, the purpose of my dissertation study was to explore how self-identified traditional-age, first-generation college women perceive interpersonal relationships to have influenced their academic successes. I utilized interviews in order to collect the viewpoints of the participants at a public institution in the southwestern United States in order to illuminate the participants’ perceptions of the influence of interpersonal relationships on their academic choices and success. This study highlights the importance of understanding the perceptions of first-generation college women about the role of relationships in their studies. The research focuses on their perspectives by hearing their own words, which is made possible by utilizing a phenomenological standpoint. The findings revealed the diverse, and at times, similar perceptions the participants held about the influence of interpersonal relationships on their academic decisions and successes. The women spoke at length about the impact their family, peers, and academic agents had on both their academic and personal lives as they transitioned to and attended college. They also described their experiences as they transitioned to college and the social and emotional challenges associated with this change. The cross-case analysis revealed four categories the participants perceived to be most prominent in influencing their academic journeys: importance of funded programs, familial support, connections on campus, and maintaining academic priorities. Although there are many implications of this study, the most prominent is the ability to inform institutions of higher education on the ways they can provide supportive resources that meet the social and emotional needs of this population.