Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Dr. Robert Donmoyer, Chair; Dr. Lea A. Hubbard, Committee Member; Dr. Carmen Barcena, Committee Member


campus organizations, Catholic universities, culture shock, first year experience, higher education, Latinas, minority & ethnic groups, persistence, qualitative, retention, Roman Catholics, student affairs professionals


There is limited research that identifies the university, familial and community factors that support the persistence of Latinas in higher education from the first to second year. The research that does exist has tended to focus on how institutional programs and activities have failed to work for first-generation students. Therefore, there is a need to study the persistence of Latinas in higher education that is as focused on discovering what works as it is with documenting what is ineffective. Research that focuses on Catholic universities is especially needed since many Latinas come from Roman Catholic families and, consequently, Catholic universities are highly appealing to the parents of Latinas and the Latinas, themselves. This qualitative study used a survey and a series of focus group interviews with Latinas who had made it through their first year in one Catholic university. The goal was to explore how the university, along with family members and the community, supported Latinas who are the first in their families to attend college. The study also identified a number of less-than-positive factors. A focus group interview with student affairs professionals who worked at the university was used to triangulate the data gathered from students. The study revealed that, for all of the student participants, the university was unfamiliar territory. Indeed, most participants spoke of experiencing culture shock generated in part by the very different cultural backgrounds of most of the other students on campus but also by the considerable economic disparity between themselves and most of their peers. Even an invitation to go along on a shopping trip to the mall was fraught with challenges: If the Latina did not go, peers criticized her for being antisocial; if she went along but did not have money to shop, she was criticized for not purchasing anything. The study also documented how Latino/a campus organizations, some but not all campus initiatives, and sympathetic faculty and staff helped the students overcome—or at least manage—the college environment. The study could not determine what would have happened had the students been less acculturated than they were or less well-prepared academically. 1Refers to women who self-identify of Latino, Mexican or Central American descent. 2First year experience refers to students who are the first in their family to experience college during their first year. In my efforts to use inclusive language, I will intentionally use the term first year instead of freshman.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access