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Extending the Literature on First-generation University Students: A Phenomenological Study of Chilean Experiences

Andrea Flanagan-Borquez, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The topic of this study is first-generation university students. This research explored Chilean first-generation university students’ (FGUS ) experiences in and out of school and how those experiences influenced their access to and continued enrollment in universities in Chile. FGUS are defined as those whose parents/guardians did not attend and/or graduate from any post-secondary institution and who come from a low socio-economic status (Vergara & Hightower, 2006). A phenomenological approach was used to describe the experiences and testimonios of the participants. Through semi-structured interviews, eleven students from different genders, ethnicities, universities, and social and cultural backgrounds were interviewed. The interviews were based on the phenomenologically interviewing method proposed by Seidman (2013). This study was also informed by and grounded in certain critical social theories in education. Specifically, this study’s theoretical framework was based on Social Reproduction theory, Bourdieu’s principles, and Latino/a Critical Theory (Bourdieu; 2011/1986; Bowles & Gintis, 2011/1976; Solorzano & Yosso, 2001; Villalpando, 2004). It follows that even in light of dramatic expansion of higher education opportunity (as in Chile), if these theoretical perspectives are explanatory, then the most disadvantaged in the larger society will be the least likely to access newer education opportunities or, if access is gained, to succeed in university. Interviewed FGUS in Chilean universities described the main facilitators and obstacles to their access to higher education and to their persistence. They also described university and social networks (family and otherwise) that seemed limited in their disposition or knowledge regarding how to assist. In addition, the participants’ experiences illuminate how being a FGUS co-occurs with other life challenges (like being a mother and raising a child or earning an income to afford university expenses). Other accounts shed light on how indigenous identity at overwhelmingly non-indigenous institutions of higher education make the sensing of discrepancies between school and home even more acute.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Education|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Flanagan-Borquez, Andrea, "Extending the Literature on First-generation University Students: A Phenomenological Study of Chilean Experiences" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10139268.