Date of Award

8-2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Educational Leadership

Advisor

Williams, Frankie Keels

Committee Member

Bailey , Beatrice

Committee Member

Cawthon , Tony

Committee Member

Nix , P. Marie

Abstract

This study explored the role of social support in relation to the persistence of community college students enrolled in a university transfer program at a single institution. Student persistence rates in community colleges are low in comparison to other sectors of higher education. To explain community college student persistence, past researchers relied on theories of student retention that were developed from data collected in traditional four-year colleges and universities. Although the dominant theories of student retention emphasized social integration and involvement, the role of social support as related to persistence in community colleges was not adequately explored. The purpose of this study was to explore the role of social support as related to community college student experiences and persistence. The following primary research question was posed: What explains students' perceptions of social support as related to their postsecondary education at a two-year or community college? Secondary research questions covered the types and functions of support, reliance on existing and new support relationships, instructional approaches and support, influences on the formation of social support relationships, and explanations for support behaviors of students. Utilizing a grounded theory approach, the researcher conducted in-depth interviews with university transfer students enrolled in a community college. Other data sources included demographic information, student characteristics, and a card sort activity on factors related to persistence. Participants provided rich data regarding social support in relation to their experiences and persistence. Findings indicated that motivation to succeed and enacted social support were the most important contributors to persistence. Grounded in analysis of the data collected, a theoretical model entitled Students Utilizing Community College Enacted Social Support (SUCCESS) was developed. The SUCCESS model depicts the prominence of enacted social support as contributing to the persistence of community college students. The implications of the study's findings for theory, practice, and policy are discussed. Recommendations are provided for additional research related to the role of social support and community college persistence.

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