Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Jennifer Riedl Cross

Committee Member

James Barber

Committee Member

Tracy Cross


There are several universities in the US that are highly selective and attended by students from very wealthy backgrounds. In recent years, many of these selective, wealthy universities have faced public pressure to enroll higher numbers of poor and working-class students. Not much is known, however, about the experiences of poor and working-class students who attend these universities. My research sought to shed light on this by asking, “What are the lived experiences of poor and working-class students who attend a wealthy university?” I answered this question with a hermeneutic phenomenological study of poor and working-class students who attended a university composed mostly of students from wealthy backgrounds. I gathered data from 20 poor and working-class students by conducting in-depth interviews and collecting essays written by the students about their backgrounds and experiences at the university. I found that poor and working-class students are much more agentic and capable of self-advocacy than indicated by previous research. Students saw themselves as in control of the trajectories they were on and as responsible for achieving their goals. No one else could be relied upon to initiate movement toward a goal. This agency came at a cost, however, as the students described difficulty in managing their responsibilities and experiences of mental health issues. I conclude that wealthy universities have a moral obligation to better support their poor and working-class students and make several recommendations that were informed by this study.



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