Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Educational Policy and Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Paulsen, Michael B

First Committee Member

Pascarella, Ernest T

Second Committee Member

Liddell, Debora

Third Committee Member

Bills, David B

Fourth Committee Member

Westefeld, John S


This dissertation examines the course-enrollment behavior of first-year students at a public Midwestern university. Using the student choice construct, modern college choice theory, and the constructs of habitus, human capital, financial capital, social capital, cultural capital, along with background variables such as gender and locus of control, a course selection theory is proposed to explain students' voluntarily enrollment in a seminar designed to assist with the academic and social transitions to college. The literature review shows numerous studies have been done examining the impacts these courses may have on first-year students' academic performance, retention, and graduation rates. In many of these studies, however, subsets of students were targeted for enrollment and participation in the seminars was not voluntary. In others, students self-select into the first-year transition seminars, raising questions about whether or not their subsequent success is attributable to their participation in these courses. Prior to this study, few, if any, studies have examined enrollment in these first-year seminars as the dependent variable and attempted to explain how various factors impact whether or not students voluntarily choose to enroll.

This quantitative research looked at 7,561 first-year students enrolling in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 and, using logistic regression, attempted to explain whether or not students chose to enroll in a transition seminar. Data was gathered from institutional offices (Admissions, Registrar, and Student Financial Aid) and through an Entering Student Survey completed by 99% of each entering cohort. Of the 52 independent variables included in the model, 17 were significant in one or more steps (or blocks) of the model.

This study found that students more advantaged in their individual or family college-going resources (e.g., higher ACT-Composite scores or a higher self-evaluation of their ability to appreciate fine arts, music, and literature) are less likely to enroll in the college transition seminar than students that could be described as more disadvantaged in terms of their college-going resources (i.e., an external locus of control, receiving a Pell Grant, and less access to various forms of capital). There is also evidence that students with past experiences where they may have learned the value of community or teamwork through in- and out-of-class experiences may see the first-year transition seminar as a way to begin creating these same types of connections or communities on the college campus. The dissertation concludes with a consideration of implications for future research, theory development, and institutional policy and practice.


college choice theory, course selection theory, cultural capital, financial capital, human capital, social capital


vi, 237 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 224-237).


Copyright 2011 Curt G. Graff