Date of Award

January 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education, Health & Behavior Studies

First Advisor

Deborah Worley


As a collective, women’s experience in higher education has been disparate and differential to some men’s experience over the last two centuries, fundamentally based on the societal influences of the time. In the formative years of higher education women attended higher education institutions for social stratification reasons or for marital choice opportunities and to a lesser degree for college outcomes. This study’s purpose was to explore the current motivations of freshmen individuals who identified as female undergraduate students in their first year of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in higher education. This study used a qualitative research design with semi-structured interviews of five undergraduate women at a mid-sized university campus in the Midwest United States. An initial pre-interview questionnaire was given to participants which provided background and demographic information to ensure an illustrative sample of undergraduate freshmen women who were pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Considering societal changes for the advancement of women using a historical lens, this study used qualitative research methods to articulate what the current motivations and influences are for women who enroll in higher education in contemporary society. By listening to the women’s stories college going was seen as a viable and important next step in their life journey helping them to achieve their personal and professional goals and aspirations. Both K-12 and post-secondary practitioners and administrators can learn through their voices what matters most to them as they seek to fulfill their personal aspirations for a career to make a difference while having a better life not only for themselves but also for those who they plan to influence through their careers and with their future families. By understanding women’s motivations for higher education credentials, institutional supports can be developed to foster a deeper understanding of women, as students, in higher education. With this knowledge, K-12 and post-secondary educators and leaders can design pre-college academic programs and student support services to facilitate student discovery built on the aspects that motivate female students to pursue the full higher education experience.