Journal of Critical Issues in Educational Practice


first-generation college students, persistence, social and emotional well-being, sense of belonging, institutional agents, first-generation programs


On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic, which caused the largest education disruption in world history. Prior to the pandemic, first-generation college students were considered an underrepresented and vulnerable population at four-year institutions (Engle & Tinto, 2008; House et al., 2020). This study sought to capture the lived experiences of seven first- generation colleges students at a four-year, private institution in Southern California who had to unexpectedly leave their university community during the COVID-19 pandemic. The participants recount their experiences of having to leave their university campus suddenly without direct access to resources provided by the university. Framed around the tenants that higher education institutions are distinct for both social and academic integration (Tinto, 1975), perceptions of sense of belong impact the persistence of first-generation college students through college. The qualitative study included a reflective prompt that participants responded to, followed by an interview over Zoom. The emerging themes revealed how perceptions of connection to the university fluctuate, yet feelings of connection are crucial in the persistence of first-generation college students. Participants described how the emotional and social support of faculty and the first-generation program were factors in their persistence throughout campus closure.

Author Statement

Teacher of future teachers. First in my family to graduate from college. Inspired by first-generation scholars, an emerging population in higher education and leadership. Committed to understanding and sharing their experiences through practice and research.