Degree Date


Document Type

Dissertation - Public Access

Degree Name

Ed.D. Doctor of Education

Academic Discipline

Higher Education Leadership

First Advisor

Dr. Jaclyn Rivard

Second Advisor

Dr. Estee Hernandez

Third Advisor

Dr. Brian Hamluk


College students and their families have to shoulder more of the burden in college costs due to rising tuition. To deter students from adding to the national student loan debt, promise programs have been launched to eliminate cost as a barrier to postsecondary education. Programs vary in design and may cover partial tuition, full tuition, or both tuition and fees. Currently, there is a dearth of research on the experiences low-income students have attending a promise eligible institution, especially at the community college level. This qualitative case study explores the ways in which low-income undergraduate students describe their experiences at a promise eligible community college, and how these experiences affect their decisions on pursuing additional higher education. This research is guided by components of Laura Perna’s Conceptual Model of Student Choice, Gary Becker’s Human Capital Theory, Pierre Bourdieu’s Theory on Social and Cultural Reproduction, and Vincent Tinto’s Theory on Student Departure. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with undergraduate students at a large community college in the southern United States. Questions focused on college decision-making and motivations, college funding options, work and study habits, support systems within and outside the institution, and stress and coping mechanisms. Three themes emerged during data analysis: human capital, social capital, and student habitus. Major study findings demonstrate the critical role of support systems in the college experience, and the impact of promise program design on early awareness and academic preparation, funding distribution, and college choice.