Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership



First Reader/Committee Chair

Dr. Bonnie Piller


Currently, the California Community College system is graduating 2.83% of its first-time freshmen from these two-year institutions in a two-year period of time (CCCCO, 2017). In addition, less than 40% of this same group are graduating in a six-year period of time. This study sought to find commonalities between the students who were in the 2.83%, as well as to learn if these thriving students’ experiences centered on possessing the skill sets of grit (Duckworth, 2007), growth mindset (Dweck, 2006), and vulnerability (Brown, 2006).

For this study, thriving students were defined as first-time college students during the fall of 2017, who had a GPA equal to or greater than 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, and who had obtained a minimum of 30 units towards graduation and/or transferring at the time of the study. A sequential explanatory mixed methods approach was used to identify skill sets obtained by thriving community college students who were on track to graduate and transfer in a two-year period of time. First, a 58-question quantitative survey was sent to thriving community college students in a three-college district in southern California. The survey combined questions on the topic of grit, growth mindset, and vulnerability. Three weeks after the online survey closed, 10 students participated in a three-hour focus group based on the same topics. The goal for the focus group was to better understand from the thriving students’ perspective the primary skill sets they possess for academic success. In addition, the participants were asked if these skills could be learned by other students.

The results from the survey revealed that grit, growth mindset, and vulnerability were non-significant skill sets in the students’ journey towards graduation and transferring to a four-year school. Conversely, the focus group revealed that all three were major factors in contributing to the academic success of the participants. While the quantitative data was not statistically significant, there were four key elements within the survey which did reveal significance. These key elements aligned with the findings of the qualitative data from the focus group, which revealed eight additional elements thriving students consider significant.

The contradictory results were interpreted by the researcher to mean more research on grit, growth mindset, and vulnerability needs to be done at the community college level. However, it is clear that there are key elements embedded within grit, growth mindset, and vulnerability, which could positively impact students towards achieving higher graduation and transfer rates.

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