Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctorate of Education, Ed.D.


College of Education



First Advisor

Jillian Skelton, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Heather Miller, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Dana Shelton, Ph.D.


Technology, socio-economic disparities, and an increasingly diverse population base have changed the nature of American communities and thus the educational and occupational landscape. Access to higher education is functionally the gatekeeper for technical and professional careers. The gap between the number of students starting a four-year degree and the number completing a degree is discouraging. As a student transitions to college, many factors influence personal resiliency. Familial support, pre-college preparation, peer-to-peer relationships, and institutional connection all influence a student’s resiliency. However, higher education’s traditional engagement and transitional programming does not always engender connection nor promote academic success. This qualitative case study explored student perceptions of institutional engagement, to understand how students perceive institutional engagement and why institution-to-student connection is an important influence to student resiliency. Stratified purposive sampling ensured that the study included diverse voices from the freshman class to include, UREP, White, first generation, and academically struggling students. 11 open interviews provided data for investigating the freshman perception of the transitional experience. Results revealed in depth understanding of institution-to-student connection and potential sources of divisiveness, as revealed in freshman perceptions. Recommendations are provided for potential high leverage practices that may serve to recruit, connect, and retain students across racial/ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, and gender divides.