Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology and Research

Major Professor

Mary F. Ziegler

Committee Members

Ralph Brockett, Gary Skolits, Colleen Gilrane


The purpose of this study was to describe the experience of college for homeless students. Using a phenomenological approach, the researcher completed interviews in which participants were asked to describe what college was like for them. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using a hermeneutic approach. All interviews were analyzed within the contexts of each other to identify themes. The participants all lived in a world of homelessness that they could never fully ignore. The world of homelessness was grounded in the contexts of the body and other people. An encompassing central theme of “Escaping the Homeless World through College” wove throughout the interviews as students described the ways in which college did or would help them escape. This central theme was divided into long- and short-term escapes. Three themes emerged within the central theme including: (a) “Meeting Basic Needs,” (b) “Emotional Stress,” and (c) “Isolation.” Each theme revealed the ways in which the world of homelessness intruded on and created barriers to the participants’ college goals. The theme “Meeting Basic Needs” contained the sub-theme “Lack of Ability to Focus on Studies” and the theme “Isolation” contained the sub-theme of “Independence.” Study findings suggest that homeless college students experience physical, emotional, and interpersonal challenges that hinder their ability to perform in school even though they are motivated to attain a college degree that they think will enable them to escape homelessness and find a job that will provide stability and security.

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