Degree Date


Document Type

Dissertation - Public Access

Degree Name

Ph.D. Doctor of Philosophy

Academic Discipline

Community Psychology

First Advisor

Bradley Olson


According to the U.S. Department of Education (2016), only 36% of first time college students enrolled at broad-access institutions graduate within six years, compared to 60% at all universities. The vital role of academic agency is universally accepted; however, debate remains over a shared definition. The purpose of this study is to determine which combination of non-academic attributes generate, grow, and support academic agency for undergraduate students at a broad-access, minority-serving “New Urban University.” Three questions are examined:

  1. Which attributes define academic agency, and how do they relate to conceptually similar variables?
  2. Assuming academic agency exists along a continuum over time, is growth affected by age, pivotal life experiences, or both?
  3. What role can institutions of higher learning play in creating pivotal life experiences to foster growth of students’ academic agency?

This research study utilizes a mixed-methods design divided into: Study 1, a quantitative examination, and Study 2, a qualitative methodology based on the life story method. In Study 1, a survey examining grit, self-efficacy, ethnic identity, leadership, fair academic opportunity, academic self-appraisal, and family support was administered to 63 undergraduate students. A new domain emerged for academic agency comprised of leadership, academic familiarity, and fair academic opportunity. All domains, except for ethnic identity, demonstrated significant increases in age, suggesting emergence of a continuum of growth for academic agency and other non-academic attributes. Study 2, using a qualitative design with 12 undergraduates, is guided by McAdams’ (2001) life story model of identity adapted for the context of education.