Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies


Foundations of Education

First Advisor

Michelle Bryan


Scholars across various disciplines concur that poverty , especially when experienced generationally, is difficult to escape (MacLeod, 2009; Bowles & Gintis, 2002; Nieto, 2005; Corak, 2006; Sawhill & Haskins, 2008). Yet, while much is known about the existence and persistence of poverty, we know less about how and why those individuals who successfully escape poverty are able to do so (Hardaway & McLoyd, 2009).

Guided by critical social and institutional theory this qualitative study, examined the experiences of individuals who grew up in generational poverty (with parents who had no high school diploma), yet became first-generation college graduates, and entered the American middle/ upper class . Specifically, this study examined the educational journeys of three African American adults, two male and one female, and one White male. Through the use of interviews and historical document analysis, this study's findings revealed that many factors served as protective processes in the lives of the participant's to support their resilient responses to adversity. I also employed the use of discursive strategies in this study to examine how the participant's explain their ability to escape generational poverty.

I argue that the participant's educational journeys are unique in that they illustrate not only how they made it out of poverty, but also that there is much to be found beyond, their simple explanations of being able to execute resilience in times of adversity, hard work and inner resources to end generational poverty. Particularly, I argue that educators and policy makers will require shifts in ideological views on the bootstrap theory or the use of individualism as the main attributing factor in helping one get out of college.


© 2013, Sharla Benson-Brown