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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Maurianne Adams

Second Advisor

Dan Clawson

Third Advisor

Sharon Rallis

Subject Categories

Higher Education


Elite institutions are historically infamous for exclusionary admissions practices that regularly denied people of color and low-income populations access to their ranks (Karabel, 2005). The power of the Civil Rights and Women’s Movements facilitated some changes in these admissions policies, although elite institutions also generated a rhetoric to suggest that low-income students would not benefit from the philosophical and theoretical orientation of an elite education (Soares, 2007). Small, elite institutions have shifted their values toward embracing student diversity and some have increased access to qualified low-income students through need-blind admissions policies. This qualitative study discusses how previously excluded White students from low-income backgrounds are faring socially and academically at small, elite, liberal arts colleges. Data were gathered through in-depth interviews with 18 White, low-income women and men attending one of four small, elite colleges in the Northeast. Findings from this study indicate that White, low-income students arrive at elite college campuses with varying degrees of academic preparation, depending upon a number of factors, including prior educational experiences and participation in summer bridge/transition programs. This study also describes the cultural and self-efficacy barriers they face that limit their harnessing of academic and student support services, and their experience of the collegiate support structure as lacking professional expertise for assisting them with their college journey. Findings from this study reveal how a dominant campus culture of upper-class entitlement invisibilizes and marginalizes White, low-income student experiences as well as the complicated class differences that affect low-income students’ sense of belonging, their friendships with peers, family relationships, and their comfort and ability to engage in social networking in pursuit of internship and career opportunities. These findings suggest that small, elite, liberal arts colleges need to implement institutional changes to help White, low-income students thrive rather than survive in college.