Academic journal article College Student Journal

Low Income Students: Their Lived University Campus Experiences Pursing Baccalaureate Degrees with Private Foundation Scholarship Assistance

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Low Income Students: Their Lived University Campus Experiences Pursing Baccalaureate Degrees with Private Foundation Scholarship Assistance

Article excerpt

This qualitative study explored the Lived University Campus Experiences of Low Income Students Pursuing Baccalaureate Degrees with Private Foundation Scholarship Assistance. The findings emerged as the themes Experiences of Affirmation, Cautious Engagement, Vulnerability, and Transformation. Experiences of Affirmation explained the positive words and acts that established and strengthened participants' confidence in their academic abilities. Supporting themes clarify the connection of affirmation to participants' commitment to pursue four-year degrees. Cautious Engagement described the guarded manner in which participants' embraced college and college choices, attitudes, and actions. Supporting themes connect their behavior to accomplishing their college goals. Vulnerability demonstrated participants' feelings of susceptibility to criticism and loss of opportunity and depth of feeling about succeeding. Transformation described how participants' were changed by the lived experience of attending college through financial assistance from a private foundation. Findings were consistent with theories of student success and persistence.

Background

Higher education is key in advancing an individual's contribution to the country and improving an individual's economic and societal standing (Cohen, 2001); accordingly, higher education accessibility is vital to all citizens. However, opportunity for financially needy students to enter higher education may be more romance than reality. Events and legislation from the 1980s and 1990s have impacted access and continue to affect negatively low-income families. The majority of public four-year institutions are too selective or too costly for low-income students to attend without their families making an extraordinary financial sacrifice (Burd, 2002). Federal grant assistance in direct student awards has not been commensurate with rising college costs (Alexander, 2001). And the growing wage inequity between rich and poor has affected families' ability to finance college. For example, over the 1990s the average real income of high-income families grew by 15 percent, while average real income remained the same for the lowest-income families. In the 1990s, the average income for the top 20 percent of U.S. families was $137,000; the bottom 20 percent averaged $13,000 (Economic Policy Institute, 2000).

Curiously, low-income students' educational plight has captured the attention of entrepreneurs and private sector foundations (McGroarty, 2000). The seemingly self-contained dilemma of low-income families struggling to access higher education has created a spiraling effect on the economic skills, preparation, and advancement of the U.S. workforce. Many private sector organizations view workforce development and its requisite education of all citizens imperative in maintaining a strong economy. Recently private programs have emerged assisting low-income students transitioning from high school to college and finding needed dollars to make higher education a reality. These unexpected philanthropic providers contribute not only funding but services such as mentoring, application writing, and test taking preparation (McGroarty, 2000).

This study was premised on the economic conditions affecting higher education access and student development theory. Federally funded financial aid programs developed during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s to support accessibility to higher education for all citizens began to erode in the 1980s when other public interest initiatives like health care and prisons received more support (Hovey, 2000). This increased competition for public funding continued through the 1990s. The National Governors' Association and National Association of State Budget Officers (2001) report that state spending on higher education has decreased as a portion of total budget. In 1987 the average state portion of total budget allotted to higher education was 12%, but by 1995 the state total budget allotment to higher education had decreased to 10%. …

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