Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC San Diego

UC San Diego Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC San Diego

In Their Own Words : : High-Achieving, Low-Income Community College Students Talk about Supports and Obstacles to their Success


Open-access admissions policies and greater affordability position community colleges at the forefront in addressing equitable academic outcomes. Yet, most community college students fail to complete their certificate, degree and transfer goals. The failure rate is particularly high for low-income, Black and Latino(a) students. Much has been written about these student populations. However, we know surprisingly little about those who "beat the odds," that is low-income students who are high-achieving. Even fewer studies turn the lens on the students' voices. What characterizes the experiences of these "beat the odds" students?. With student voice at its center, this qualitative study investigates how high-achieving, low- income students make sense of the opportunities and obstacles they encounter at the community college. Students' experiences and relationships are examined to discover to what extent they contribute to or impede their persistence. Also explored are the organizational factors that mediate the relationship between the students' academic experiences and their success. A multidimensional framework that draws upon the literature on sensemaking, institutional actors and agents, social capital theory, and critical race theory guides this study. This study involved individual, semi-structured interviews with 25 high achieving (GPA of 3.0 or higher), low-income (California Board of Governors grant eligible) female and male students of varying ages and ethnicities. Students were selected from an online survey sent to eligible potential participants. Interview data collected from three institutional representatives were also included in the analysis. Data collected from these sources were analyzed for experiences, relationships and navigational strategies. Student interview transcripts were constructed into four poems using only the students' words and exemplifying the major themes of their success narratives. Findings indicate that students encounter both economic and organizational impediments to their success but cite interactions with and interventions by institutional representatives as contributing greatly to their persistence and success in college. Perceived professorial attitudes and teaching practices were prominent factors. Students of color identified socio-political realities, such as immigration status and experiences with racism, as barriers to their success. The study's contributions to extant research and theory are explored. Implications for policy, practice and future research directions are also discussed

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View