Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


A Qualitative Exploration of the Experiences of College Students in a Skill-Building Course for First-Year Students

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Leigh Chiarelott (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

John Makay (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Carolyn Palmer (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Maureen Wilson


The purpose of this study was to examine college students' lived experiences in an interactive skill-building course for first-year students. The research addressed four areas of inquiry: (a) students' perceptions of what they learned from the course, (b) students' perceptions of the course's impact on their transition to college, (c) students' perceptions of the most long- lasting impact of the course, and (d) students' perceptions about the course.

As first-year students enter institutions across the country, they are required to make numerous decisions that will influence various aspects of their college experience. Some first-year students encounter academic difficulties or struggle with adjusting to the campus culture. Students must quickly learn to navigate the rigors of college life, which may be extremely different from their previous educational experience. Some first-year students are away from home for the first time and might feel isolated. Many colleges and universities provide programs and services to help first-year students achieve a successful transition into higher education.

In order to provide a comprehensive and authentic account of the participants' experiences in a skill-building course for first-year students, a phenomenological study based on the emergent paradigm was employed. Five students participated in the study, and the researcher conducted two phases of in-depth semi-structured interview sessions. Some of the themes that emerged from the inductive analysis of data are communication and self-confidence, meeting people and making friends, positive and negative interactions, and getting used to something new. The majority of the participants expressed that the skill-building course, along with other factors, provided support during their first year of college.

Institutions of higher education must strive to create a learning environment that is conducive to first-year students successfully achieving their educational goals. Providing intentional and meaningful opportunities for first-year students to enhance such skills as communication and self-assurance can equip them with tools necessary to be successful in the classroom environment and to negotiate issues concerning their professional and personal lives. Courses specifically designed for first-year students can help to build campus community through a supportive interactive environment while giving guidance to assist this vulnerable population to adjust to college and persist to graduation.