Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Teacher Education

Major Professor

Lynn L. Hodge

Committee Members

Vena M. Long, Charles R. Collins, Stergios G. Botzakis


All too often education research focuses on academic disparities with under-served student populations. Frequently, both remedial and introductory college-level mathematics courses are cited as gatekeepers or insurmountable barriers for adult low-socioeconomic status (LSES) students. There has been a call from within the mathematics education community for less gap-gazing at disparities and more studies of success within marginalized groups. Many previously unsuccessful, under-prepared, under-served, and under-supported students persist and eventually succeed. In addition, there is a lack of research through the lens of the community college as a unique educational context, distinct from both K-12 and the four year colleges and universities. The goal of this hermeneutical phenomenological study is to describe and interpret the lived experienced of previously unsuccessful LSES students who became successful. Ten students told their stories during unstructured phenomenological interviews. Upon analysis of the interview transcripts, themes appeared consistent with the patterns of the inward and outward journeys found in the Hero’s Journey or monomyth narrative structure. The stages of the monomyth as described in the work of Campbell (2008) are rooted in the universal human themes of the transformational quest. Six meta-themes appeared through the textual analysis of the interview transcripts; 1) the call of a better life that requires education, 2) connections with mentors and allies through authentic relationships, 3) the cultural border crossing at the threshold to higher education, 4) perspective transformations taking place as tests presented by an array of threshold guardians are passed, 5) increasing resilience through taking ownership and increasing networks of connections as the labyrinth of higher education was navigated, 6) after seizing the magic elixir of education the desire to pay it forward. Their stories reveal a perspective transformation as described in Mezirow’s (1981) transformative learning theory. These stories of transformational learning as experienced by previously unsuccessful LSES community college students provide essential insights as to how we might foster positive learning transformations, and more importantly, avoid being the source of needless obstacles for our students. These findings present a narrative counter to the current deafening drumbeat of the anti-developmental education, completion and acceleration agendas.

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