Date of Completion


Embargo Period



First-Generation College Students, Higher Education, Social Capital, Intersectionality

Major Advisor

Dr. Davita Glasberg

Associate Advisor

Dr. Bandana Purkayastha

Associate Advisor

Dr. Gaye Tuchman

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


North American institutions of higher education have observed an increase of First Generation College Students (FGS) in the past twenty years. In 1998, 66% of students had parents who did not graduate from college (US Department of Education). FGS represented the new majority on college campuses and consequently, research literature flourished to describe this student population. Many quantitative research studies explored the academic, economic, and social concerns FGS faced by comparing them to students whose parents graduated from college. The question of their success remained perplexing and under-explored; for despite their many academic disadvantages, many FGS successfully graduated from college.

This dissertation focuses on how FGS used their social capital to navigate higher education. This dissertation will present the role played by family members, friends, and institutional actors in helping FGS to solve academic, economic, emotional, and social concerns and problems.

To better understand the FGS experience in higher education, this dissertation used an intersectional approach constructed by the intersection of race, class, and gender. The objective was to describe how social forces and unique locations affected the students’ experiences. Based on the interviews of fifty-six students from a state university of New England, this dissertation contributes to the larger research field of sociology of education by describing educational mobility. The interviews revealed the heterogeneous possession and use of social capital. In addition, this dissertation built on the concept of bridging and bonding social capital by creating the concepts of Social Distinction Capital and Minority Social Capital.