Educational Administration, Department of


Date of this Version



L.D. Schultheis, A Phenomenological Study of the Factors Leading Low Socioeconomic Status Urban Students to Enroll in a University. PhD diss., Department of Educational Administration, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2013.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Educational Leadership and Higher Education), Under the Supervision of Professor Miles T. Bryant. Lincoln, Nebraska: December 2013

Copyright (c) 2013 Luke D. Schultheis


Low socioeconomic urban students do not attend universities at a rate proportional to other populations. This perpetuates a cycle of recurrence and diminished potential benefits associated with degree attainment. The commonly ascribed Theory of Student Choice (Hossler, Braxton & Coopersmith, 1989) does not apply to this population.

The purpose of this study was to identify factors which motivated low socioeconomic urban students to enroll in a university. Three interviews, each up to two hours, were conducted with students of this population. The participants identified why they chose to enroll in a university.

The participants were not motivated to attend a university by parents, siblings and peers as traditionally associated with the Theory of Student Choice (Hossler, et al., 1989). Rather, they identified three factors, the first being the desire to avoid what was perceived to be a cumbersome transfer process from community college to university. The second factor was that the term “university” was prestigious and with it, they associated a variety of desirable institutional traits. The third factor was to avoid enrolling at a community college altogether, which they perceived as being too “easy” and too similar to high school. It was also found that the indirect comments made by high school teachers about community colleges and universities were a factor.

These findings challenge those traditionally associated with motivating students to enroll in a university. Such unconsidered factors included cost-benefit decisions involving tuition and future earnings, the most direct academic route to a career, and the influence of family and peers.

Some factors which may be important in the development of a new model of student choice for this population include short-term decision making based upon one’s structural role within the family; local, rather than national choice of institution; perceived limited choice of institutions, even at the local level; the impact of teachers; and reliance upon faith that short-term decisions will yield favorable results.

Additional study needs to be conducted on low socioeconomic urban students in different geographic regions. This study should be of interest to those who desire to increase baccalaureate degree attainment of low socioeconomic students.

Adviser: Miles T. Bryant