Document Type



Doctor of Education


Educational Leadership

First Adviser

Hochbein, Craig D.

Other advisers/committee members

White, George P.; Dever, Bridget V.; Roy, Joseph J.


In light of the disproportionately small numbers of low-income students who obtain postsecondary degrees, the current study investigated the relationships between various characteristics of disadvantaged students and the level of K – 12 academic success that positioned them for postsecondary degree completion. After examining the literature related to academic resilience, the author found inconsistent identification of low-income students and low-level benchmarks for academic success. The lack of consistency in identifying low-income and academically successful students undermined the generalizability of the findings to students prepared for postsecondary education. The purpose of the study was to determine (a) the level of cumulative proximal risk exposure associated with postsecondary degree completion; (b) the level of income associated with students who had elevated risk exposures; (c) the level of academic achievement associated with academically successful postsecondary degree completers; and (d) the individual, family, and school characteristics that were related to low-income students’ academic success. The quantitative research design used samples from a national pool of 3,563 individuals from the Child Development Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Statistical analyses, involving a combination of logistic regression, multivariate analysis of variance, and discriminate analysis, yielded a number of important findings. First, at a relatively low level of two direct risks, an individual’s odds of postsecondary degree completion became unlikely. Second, the income level associated with elevated risk levels encompassed roughly the lower half of the CDS population. Third, individuals with mathematics achievement at or above the 70th percentile on the Woodcock-Johnson were more likely to obtain postsecondary degrees. Fourth, the most significant and important characteristics associated with persistent academic success for low-income students, across school levels, were increased participation in extracurricular activities and high parental expectations for education. The findings had a number of implications for policy-makers, practitioners, and researchers interested in promoting the long-term academic success of low-income learners.