Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education Policy, Planning, and Administration

Committee Chairperson

Heather Schugar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lesley Siegel, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kuhio Walters, Ph.D.


First-generation students make up on average 22% of college students on college campuses and this number continues to grow (Chen & Carroll, 2005). While the enrollment of first-generation college students in higher education institutions continues to increase, first-generation college students have a higher attrition rate, dropout rate, and lower graduation rates than other groups (Gibson & Slate, 2010; Pascarella et al., 2003). Additionally, the majority of the literature discussing first -generation college students, views them from a deficit lens and focuses on what first-generation students lack as they enter college. This study focused on the journeys of first-generation college students and employed Yosso’s Community Cultural Wealth theory and Billings and Tate’s Critical Race theory to view first-generation journeys through a strength-based lens. This qualitative study examined the experiences of first-generation college graduates utilizing the photovoice methodology. Utilizing the photovoice method, first-generation graduates collected photographic data and provided narrative texts to their photographs to discuss their journeys to college completion. Five themes emerged regarding factors that contributed to first-generation students’ college completion: (a) community, (b) resilience/grit, (c) all eyes on me, (d) involvement, and (e) identity affirmation. In addition, two themes emerged regarding factors that were barriers to first-generation student completion: (a) money, and (b) sense of belonging.