Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology and Research

Major Professor

Mary Ziegler

Committee Members

Ralph Brockett, Kathy Greenberg, Robert Kronick


The purpose of this narrative inquiry is to learn about the experiences of former foster youth in higher education. Nationwide, 26,547 youth emancipate from foster care each year. Former foster youth who continue with education beyond high school may elect to receive supportive services through the state’s independent living program. Although these services are intended to provide the necessary support while the youth completes a post-secondary degree program, research has shown that fewer former foster youth enter college and complete a degree than their non-former foster youth peers. Further, there has been very little research that explores firsthand experiences of former foster youth as college students.

Narrative inquiries are most suited for small numbers of participants in qualitative research studies. Moreover, the best way to understand the human experience is to hear it firsthand from those who have lived it. For this study, eight former foster youth were interviewed about their experiences in foster care and as students in a large, southeastern U.S. community college. Findings from the data were presented as profiles in the youth’s own words and through an analysis of the themes found across interviews. Two over-arching topics that relate to the research questions were addressed: meaning-making experiences and identity construction. Within those two topics are themes that support each one. The findings revealed that meaning is made through the transitions former foster youth have experienced, the preparation for college they have had, the connections they have made, and whether or not they feel in control of their lives. The resulting themes of crisis, commitment, transformation, and confidence help to understand how identity is constructed for these youth.

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