Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Conflict Analysis & Resolution


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Conflict Resolution Studies

First Advisor

Claire M. Rice

Second Advisor

Robin Cooper

Third Advisor

Robert J. Witheridge


at-risk youth, college, foster care, youth


This dissertation explored the experiences of foster care alumni pursuing a college degree and the perceptions and meanings they attribute to those experiences. This phenomenological study explored the conflicts that may impair foster care alumni from achieving postsecondary educational goals. The researcher conducted face-to-face interviews with 10 foster care alumni in the Central Florida area. The findings were based on the following research question: What are the obstacles to postsecondary achievement for foster care alumni who are currently pursuing or would like to pursue a degree at a two-or-four-year university? Scholarly literature and four theoretical frameworks support the analysis of this study’s findings: Burton’s (1990) theory of human needs, Chickering’s (1969) theory of student development, Vygotsky’s (1978) theory on social development and Putnam’s (1993) theory on social capital. The primary essence of this study revealed that foster care alumni who are transitioning from foster care to independence expressed feelings of being alone and having a lack of support. The major sub-themes that exemplified this essence included feelings of isolation, lack of confidence, childhood trauma, gaining life skills, financial conflict, changing perceptions, motivation, communication with faculty, and delays in enrollment. Academic advisors, social workers in child welfare agencies, and researchers in the field of conflict analysis and resolution would benefit from the findings of this study to more effectively address the needs of foster care alumni.