Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 12-15-2023


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program for Education Leaders (IDPEL)


School of Education

Committee Chair

Rick McCown

Committee Member

Amy Olson

Committee Member

Gibbs Kanyongo


Completion by Design, Design Based Implementation Research, Educational Equity, Equity Scorecard Framework, Improvement Science, Trio Student Support Services


The primary purpose of this mixed-methods study is to define the problem and to understand the system that has been leading to unacceptably low graduation outcomes for historically excluded Trio Student Support Services (Trio SSS) students at Mid-Atlantic University (MAU), a pseudonym. To achieve the primary purpose extant documents and institutional data that can shed light on system processes and institutional conditions that perpetuate disparities in graduation outcomes, particularly for historically excluded racial groups that exist at the intersection of first-generation status and/or low socioeconomic status, will be analyzed. The secondary purpose of this study is to identify potential change ideas that might improve graduation rates for Trio Student Support Services students at MAU. Achieving the second purpose will yield an improvement agenda that can (1) contribute to improved outcomes for historically excluded Trio SSS students at MAU and (2) instigate new data-based continuous improvement practices using the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s Six Principles of Improvement and build capacity for systemic problem identification using the 5S framework.

The research questions that guide this study are: (1) What are the 6-Year graduation rates within MAU’s campus, MAU’s university system, and National Trio SSS programs disaggregated by race and Trio SSS status? (2) How are MAU’s institutional conditions (policies and practices) contributing to low graduation rates for Trio SSS students? And (3) How do we improve the MAU system to increase graduation outcomes for Trio SSS students? The researcher will answer these questions by establishing baseline data relating to 6-year graduation outcomes for historically excluded Trio SSS students compared to their peers and utilize insights from campus discussions to examine MAU-specific dynamics that perpetuate systemic inequity, with the goal of understanding how the Trio SSS system at MAU can be improved and leveraged to better support graduation outcomes for historically excluded Trio SSS students. The study aims to foster a culture of equity-minded practice, organizational accountability, routine analysis of data disaggregated by race/ethnicity and Trio SSS participation status, and continuous improvement inquiry within MAU's Trio SSS system to achieve more equitable graduation outcomes for minoritized students.

The researcher is viewing this problem through an equity-minded cognitive lens. The literature review centers racism as a core element of institutionalized inequity, explores racialized inequity in postsecondary education, focuses on the persistent disparities in educational experiences and outcomes for racial/ethnic groups that have faced historical discrimination and exclusion, emphasizes the necessity of explicitly anti-racist policies and language in designing interventions that support minoritized students, presents institutional systems and conditions that advance equity and racial justice, and underscores institutional responsibility for educational equity and the necessity of equity-minded organizational learning to drive change. The social justice implications presented in the study are sustained economic inequality, inequitable access to opportunities that facilitate social mobility, the compromised standing of the U.S. as a global leader in education, and that anti-racist policy and legislative language is a requisite to advancing educational equity.

The quantitative data findings for the first research question demonstrated that African American and Hispanic Trio SSS students are graduating at lower rates than their more privileged peers. The qualitative data yielded the following themes that answered the second and third research questions: existence of a hidden curriculum that first-generation college students are not privy to, a lack of system alignment both interdepartmentally at the university level and between secondary and postsecondary education systems, unclear academic pathways, prevalence of faculty members acting as gatekeepers and not advocates, infrastructure challenges due to budgetary constraints, and inadequate centering of student voice in decision making and learning experiences. The improvement agenda recommended by the researcher focuses on training equity-minded practitioners and creating equity-minded pathways that center anti-racist language in policy and intervention design.