Renee Nilsen

Date of Award

December 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education, Health & Behavior Studies

First Advisor

Zarrina Azizova


As the cost of higher education has risen, partly due to the embrace of neoliberalism in higher education, students and families have faced a growing cost-sharing burden. Along with an increased demand for graduate education credentials, this trend has led to the growth of student loan debt in the United States. This narrative case study researched how personal finance situations have impacted the career experiences of people aged 28-40 who work as professional staff in higher education. Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model guided the design and analysis to capture the dynamics between the policy realms, institutional and industry career development provisions, and individual experiences. The data sources included two interviews per participant, participant resumes, a participant-drafted artifact depicting their career trajectories, and publicly available institutional HR policies from the participants’ current employers. Findings included the importance of family support and structure throughout one’s life in terms of financial knowledge and resources. Also discussed in the findings was the role of higher education institutions as places of learning and employment in shaping personal finance situations and career experiences. Additionally, time, in terms of length of engagement with an experience and the broader time in history that engagement occurs, was also found to influence individual’s experiences. Finally, recommendations for research, theory, policy, and practice were addressed. The practice recommendations focused on policy leaders, institutions, and people.