Negotiating class boundaries: a phenomenological study of the effects of poverty on the identity development of college students

Steinmetz, Christian L., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Wathington, Heather D., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Booker, Keoyna, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Covert, Robert, Cu-Leadshp Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia
Rue, Penny, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

This study addresses how the process of identity development of college students is affected by low socioeconomics status (SES) through the exploration of individual student experiences at an elite public university in the South.

The legacy of the commitment to access and opportunity in the Higher Education Act of 1965 is evident in public policy today, although the college-going and completion rates for students from low SES backgrounds lag far behind those of their more affluent peers. Shifts in postsecondary finance policy and other political economic transformations in the higher education policy context have increased calls for economic affirmative action. At the same time, scholars have increasingly urged policymakers to once again turn attention to the low SES population.

Little research is available on low SES populations, particularly in the area of psychosocial development. Previous development research (race, ethnicity, gender, etc.) has helped researchers and policymakers understand differences in and among diverse populations and informed policy; however, while it is an essential aspect of identity and interacts with other identity dimensions, researchers often control for socioeconomic status. As a result, little is understood about how differences in SES may shape students' experiences and outcomes and ultimately influence opportunity structure and social mobility. Results of the study show that students are effective at masking their identity in regards to class status. Though this population of students experience college and develop their identity similar to other underrepresented populations, the central fact that poverty remains highly stigmatized in American society, and more specifically on college and university campuses, serves to foreclose the exploration of the social class dimension of identity development.

The results of this study have implications for policy and practice. The findings may influence theory, increase the knowledge base, and encourage additional research on unexplored dimensions. of identity development with significant implications for student access, retention and success.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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