Experiences of First-year Community College Students in Learning Support Programs: A Narrative Inquiry

Experiences of First-year Community College Students in Learning Support Programs: A Narrative Inquiry

Author: 
Amanda G. Miller
Program of study: 
Ph.D./HEA
Abstract: 
Many students who begin their higher education journey at community colleges are academically underprepared and lack the skills necessary to begin college-level courses. As a result, underprepared students are required to begin a remedial course sequence designated as “learning support”. The purpose of this qualitative narrative inquiry was to explore the experiences of first-year community college students completing a learning support program at one community college in the state of Georgia. The study involved face-to-face semi-structured interviews with 10 participants to ascertain their academic, financial, and social experiences with the learning support program. The interviews were analyzed using NVivo 10 software and themes were constructed based on the van Kaam seven-step thematic data analysis process. Three key themes emerged from the study: (a) teacher support and effectiveness, (b) investing for the future, and (c) interpersonal relationships. The study revealed that the first-year community college students who were required to take learning support courses faced many challenges with English, Reading, and Mathematics learning during the K–12 education period. As a result, they failed to achieve college-level proficiency and were required to begin a college remediation process. Data collected from this study may empower community college leaders to empathize with the struggles faced by first-year community college students, as to provide optimal support programs for this often-overlooked population of underprepared learners. Having a sound knowledge of learning support students’ experiences may also encourage college leaders to develop innovative strategies with a stern focus on college retention and completion among first-year students.
Dedication: 
I dedicate my dissertation to my parents, Mr. George A. Miller and Mrs. Susan Amanda Miller as a gift of my love, gratitude, and appreciation. On August 18, 2017, they will celebrate 44 blessed years of marriage. Thus, I find it fitting to honor them with the “best anniversary gift ever”: a COMPLETED dissertation. Mere words will never be sufficient to express the depth of my love and gratitude for all they have done for me throughout my doctoral journey and all of my life. All I am and all that I am continuously growing to become, I owe it to my parents. Thank you both for being my “rock,” my strength during the many times when I wanted to give up. You both encouraged me to persist through the pains of pursing a PhD. Therefore, this degree does not belong to me solely; it is OURS to share. Happy Anniversary in advance with Love Your daughter, Dr. Miller
Acknowledgements: 
First, I acknowledge the presence, loving grace, and ongoing mercy of my risen Savior, Jesus Christ. I acknowledge that I can do all things through Christ who saved me and guided me through such a tremendous journey from beginning to end. With Him, I am everything, yet without Him I am nothing. I also recognize the three wonderful gifts the Lord sent me through that of my dissertation committee: Dr. Linda Ellis Brown, my dissertation chair, Dr. Valerie Sherwood (Dr. Val) and Dr. Carol A. Holland, my committee members. Dr. Ellis-Brown, you were more than a mentor to me and I could not have completed the process without you. Thank you for exhibiting patient, calm, and unconditional support to me for the past several years. I will always have the highest level of respect for you. I honor your expertise and advice, as well as your prayers that helped me over many tough mountains. Dr. Val you always inspired me with your wisdom and positive attitude. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read and reread my many drafts while offering your valuable constructive criticisms for improvement. Your constant prayers and belief in me that I would one day become a doctor served as my motivation to keep going in spite of the many challenges I encountered along the way. Dr. Holland, you were my strong guide throughout the beginning stages of my doctoral program during DOC/720 and DOC/721. I appreciate your willingness to “fill in the gap” toward the end of my journey several years later. It is a blessing to have someone with your expertise on my dissertation team! Numerous individuals from the University of Phoenix contributed to my success. I extend my heartfelt thanks to Eric Klabe, my academic advisor and Angela Hightower my financial advisor for your support over the years. Dr. Shawn Boone, my doctoral instructor for RES/724A, thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise with me. It is because of you that I was able to develop a newfound love of qualitative research; you opened my eyes to so much relevant information concerning qual research that I never would have thought of. I also acknowledge the support from extended family and true friends who encouraged me to pursue my dream. Thanks to my sisters and brothers of Peace Chapter No. 146 Order of the Eastern Star, and to the entire Prince Hall Jurisdiction Masons and Eastern Stars of Georgia. Also thank you to my many Sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. worldwide who believed in me and always showed true love and support. Additionally, I acknowledge the entire administrative unit of Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC). The research study would not have been possible without their help and approval to conduct research at the campus site. I also appreciate the assistance of several faculty members in the Learning Support Department who extended helping hands and offered gentle words of encouragement to help me along the way. Finally, my study would not be complete without the help of the students who willingly agreed to be participants for the research study.