Term of Award

Spring 2024

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Leadership, Technology, and Human Development

Committee Chair

Brandon Hunt

Committee Member 1

Steven Tolman

Committee Member 2

Pamela Wells


In the realm of higher education, an increasingly important concern is the intellectual capacity of first-generation learners. To improve their cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal development in contemporary society, it is essential for institutions to gain a comprehensive understanding of these students' unique challenges. The existing body of literature on first-generation students has predominantly centered on the personal challenges and institutional barriers that impede their pursuit of higher education. However, promoting self-authorship among this student population presents a unique opportunity for faculty, staff, and administrators to facilitate and reinforce the developmental needs of students who are the first in their families to attend college. Educators can better support their academic growth and success by encouraging students to take ownership of their learning experience and develop their own sense of identity.

The aim of this research was to examine how individuals who are the first in their families to attend college acquire self-authorship, taking into account external factors and environmental influences. By exploring the lived experiences of these learners, I intended to identify factors that may promote self-authoring practices using a qualitative phenomenological study. Six themes emerged about the lived experiences of first-generation learners towards self-authorship development: Redefining Family Relationships, Social Identity and Sense of Belonging, Learning to Navigate Higher Education, Developing Independence and Resilience, and the Importance of Mentorship and Support. The study's results aim to assist higher education personnel in effectively aiding first-generation learners, ultimately boosting student success, retention, and graduation rates. The findings could also be valuable for policymakers, academic affairs, and student affairs programs promoting self-authorship and continued student success.

OCLC Number


Research Data and Supplementary Material