Educational Journey

May 28, 2012

The final stretch: An exploration of first-generation students that choose to study art

Filed under: Dissertation Topic Exploration — Cyndy @ 4:05 pm

Finally, I am in the process of writing my prospectus and will soon be forming a dissertation committee. My topic has fully evolved. I’ve explored it from several angles, and I am confident of the path I am taking. My topic is rooted in a passion for educational access to everyone, no matter their socioeconomic background, ethnic background, or disability.

More and more students are going to college than ever before, yet disparities in completion to graduation are dramatic. Low income and first-generation students are less likely to enroll in selective schools, less likely to enroll in a four-year+ program, and less likely to complete a degree. In fact, first-generation students are 8.5 times more likely to drop out of college than a student with a parent that has a degree (Ishitani, 2006). Additionally, disparities exist in exposure to the arts by education level and socioeconomic status (DiMaggio, P. & Mukhtar, T., 2004). It is this disparity of differences in cultural capital required to be successful as a college student and gain exposure to the arts, that intrigues me.

Why would a first-generation student choose an art degree? How does that student overcome the many limitations that exist in order to succeed with an art degree? These are the questions at the root of my study. Because little research has been done on this specific demographic, related to this topic, I have chosen to use a phenomenological qualitative approach to answer the following:

Given that a first-generation student is less likely to finish a college degree, and have limited exposure to art prior to college, this study seeks to examine the experiences of first-generation students that choose to study art as their major focus.

The research questions:

  1. What motivates a first-generations student to choose an art major and persist to completion?
  2. What are the challenges experienced by first-generation students as they pursue a degree in art and how do they overcome those challenges?
  3. What are the social transformations that occur during the process of choosing an art degree, pursuing the degree and completing the degree?


DiMaggio, P., & Mukhtar, T. (2004). Arts participation as cultural capital in the United States, 1982-2002: Signs of decline? Poetics 32(2), 169-194.

Ishitani, T. T. (2006). Studying attrition and degree completion behavior among first-generation college students in the United States. Journal of Higher Education, 77(5), 861-885.




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