Degree Name

EdD (Doctor of Education)


Educational Leadership

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Bethany Flora

Committee Members

Catherine Glascock, Don Good, Ramona Williams


A qualitative phenomenological study was conducted to understand the transition and integration experiences of first-year freshmen who participated in an outdoor orientation program at 2 higher education institutions in the Southeastern United States. Student attrition from the first year to the second year and increased time to degree completion are challenges for a number of higher education institutions in the United States (Hamilton & Hamilton, 2006; Pascarella, Terenzini, & Wolfle, 1986; Tinto, 2006). First-year to second-year attrition and lack of persistence to degree completion may be due to an unsuccessful transition to college, the inability to integrate into the campus community, or a lack of student involvement (Braxton & McClendon, 2001; Tinto, 2006).

The research setting included 2 public higher education institutions that offer outdoor orientation programs for incoming first-year freshmen. The sample was purposefully selected, using 4 criterion: (1) first-year students who had participated in a university sponsored outdoor based program prior to their first year of college, (2) students who had successfully completed their first semester of college and remained enrolled as a student during the data collection term of the research, (3) students meeting the definition of traditional age (18-21 years old) college freshmen, and (4) students willing to participate in data collection. Traditional age first-year students who participated in outdoor orientation programs at 2 institutions during the summer 2015, and who were enrolled in the spring 2016, were eligible research participants. The sample chosen provided information-rich, illuminative detail on the phenomenon of first-year student transition and integration to college.

Data collection included the creation of 3 concept maps followed by a semistructured in-depth interview. The highest number of mentioned areas on the research participant concept maps included friends, family, and organizations/clubs. A comprehensive support system, the right environment, and engagement in fun campus activities were found to be cornerstones of successful transition and integration to college. The study provides higher education leaders with insight on the lived experiences of first-year student transition and integration as well as evidence related to the impact of first-year experience programs that may guide and enhance institutional efforts.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.