Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy





First Advisor

Linda Serra Hagedorn


Over the past decades, community college attendance has continued to be the first stop and school of choice for over half of the college student population, particularly for first-generation students. However, despite their enrollment, degree attainment remains low for first-generation students. It is not enough to get them in the door—it is critical that they belong. A college experience that provides a sense of belonging and sense of place for first-generation students is crucial. Sense of belonging has been shown to contribute to a positive student identity and experience that leads to higher retention and graduation rates. Student belonging has been an important topic of research for many student populations, while sense of place has not. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand the experiences of community college students concerning their perceptions of the community college as a place. Specifically, this study explored the perceptions and preferences of students at a Midwest community college to gain a deeper understanding of how they like to experience sense of place from their perspective.

In-depth interviews were conducted to obtain deeper understanding of students’ sense of place. Participants were asked questions related to the sense of place that involved historical, cultural, social, and physical aspects of their community college experience. Research oftentimes finds perceptions of the first-generation community college student experience as lonely or even debilitating. Results of this study found first-generation community college students’ experiences as thriving. This study can contribute to literature related to sense of belonging and the college experience from the perspective of sense of place.

Sense of place allows a view into what sense of belonging looks like for first-generation students by a) introducing a sense of place model applicable to first-generation community college students; b) emphasizing the importance of a critical mass of FGS; c) providing a holistic view of sense of belonging and how sense of place is a more appropriate lens to view FGS; and d) focusing on how cultural forces influence sense of place and how to capitalize on them to best benefit FGS. The sense of place theoretical construct can be applied to future studies on various student populations to enhance sense of belonging. These findings can be collectively significant for all higher education professionals that can influence success for FGS.


Copyright Owner

Cheryl J. Williams



File Format


File Size

151 pages