Date of Award

5-1-2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Mallette, Marla

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to illuminate the barriers to persistence underprepared students at the community college experience after the initial successful completion of one semester. A qualitative interview study, grounded in phenomenology, was implemented. Participants were identified through a process of purposeful selection, which included the following criteria: (a) beginning the development reading sequence at the most basic level (DEV 65) and passing that course; (b) immediately enrolling in a subsequent semester at the institution; and (c) exiting the institution before acquiring any credit-bearing English coursework. The examination of institutional archival data resulted in 42 potential participants. Participants were recruited via telephone and mail, and of the 42 attempted telephone and 39 mailed contacts, five individuals volunteered to participate in the study. Each participant was interviewed individually, with sessions varying in length between 51 and 119 minutes. Immediately after each interview was complete, the audio recording was listened to in its entirety and transcribed verbatim. The resulting transcripts were analyzed through a modified version of Devinish's (2002) applied method for phenomenological explication of interview transcripts. This involved a multi-layered process of recursive analysis beginning with line-by-line open coding, extracting 333 natural meaning units (NMU). In a second stage of analysis, the NMU were further sorted, analyzed, and grouped to arrive at 46 central themes. The third stage of analysis involved collating and grouping central themes into related fields employing a concept map to form at 13 interpretive themes. The final stage of analysis included a further examination of the 13 interpretive themes, where each was rank ordered by importance (frequency x intensity = priority) and then synthesized with data from lesser themes, which resulted in the following six explicative themes: (a) significant environmental stressors; (b) a sense of self-sufficiency and independency; (c) reading problems; (d) a belief in the power of perseverance; (e) instructor characteristics; and (f) financial aid restrictions. These six explicative themes captured the essence of what it meant for the participants to be an underprepared student at the college and identified the perceived barriers to persistence.

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