The pull of home: Family dynamics and the initial college experiences of low-income undergraduates

by Kinsley, Peter M., Ph.D., THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN - MADISON, 2014, 189 pages; 3643032


The American higher education system has seen massive growth over the past half century. Yet despite expanded access, degree attainment remains tightly linked to socioeconomic status. Students from economically disadvantaged families continue to lag far behind their wealthier peers in rates of degree completion. Research examining the role of parents and family during college has frequently portrayed low-income families one-dimensionally as inhibiting their children's postsecondary opportunities by lacking important financial and educational resources. Yet there is emerging evidence that these parents can and do provide important forms of support to children once they are in college.

This dissertation examines the family dynamics patterns of economically disadvantaged college students, and their related influence on first-year college adjustment and second-year persistence. The study draws on theories of family capital and family kinscripts to frame social support between low-income college students and their families as a two-way exchange process. Using quantitative and student interview data from a unique statewide sample of traditional-aged low-income undergraduates, the study highlights the many ways that disadvantaged families support their children in college, but also illuminates the complex trade offs low-income students may face when navigating the pursuit of individual goals alongside responsibilities to fulfill family obligations.

AdviserSara Goldrick-Rab
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsEducational sociology; Individual & family studies; Higher education
Publication Number3643032

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