Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: A Qualitative Analysis of Higher Education Success among Women on Welfare

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The purpose of this study is to give a voice to economically disadvantaged women on welfare pursuing a degree in higher education. Attention is focused on the motivational and institutional factors they encounter while struggling to integrate academically and socially into the college campus community. The theoretical framework of the study was based on Vincent Tinto’s Theory of Persistence, which emphasizes the importance of a strong inclusive educational and social campus community, and the role it plays in student retention. The study considers the impact of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act and the feminization of poverty in the United States. The impact the new welfare reform act had on education acquisition for women on welfare as well as the challenges these women faced was also examined. In addition, the academic and non-academic support programs that have enabled women on welfare to overcome the obstacles and barriers to education and achievement of academic success in higher education was further explored. The research design was a narrative study approach, which included the participants sharing their own story which included their background, family upbringing, educational experiences from elementary school to high school and ultimately college. In-depth interviews were used to develop a thorough description for the narratives. The participants were women on welfare who currently attended or had graduated from colleges and universities located in Hudson County, New Jersey. Through an analysis of the results a better understanding of how motivational and institutional factors affect a student’s persistence was identified. The themes that emerged during analysis of the interview transcripts were considered within Tinto’s 1973 model of attrition and persistence. Tinto’s model includes the following components: pre-entry attributes (prior schooling and family background); goals/commitment (student aspirations and institutional goals); institutional experiences (academics, faculty interaction, co-curricular involvement, and peer group interaction); integration (academic and social); and outcome (departure decision— graduate, transfer, dropout). Findings indicate that colleges and universities can increase retention and support persistence by identifying students’ individual institutional needs, and by implementing and improving upon programs that aid academic and social integration.

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  • 11/16/2023
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