Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Adult, Career, and Higher Education

Major Professor

Thomas E. Miller, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Donald A. Dellow, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Patricia A. Maher, Ph.D.

Committee Member

W. Robert Sullins, Ed.D.


Retention, Persistence, At-risk, Freshmen, Academic Success


The purpose of this study was to advance understanding of self-directed learning characteristics of first-year, first-generation college students participating in a summer bridge program. Understanding the experience of these students in higher education can lead to the development of programmatic and pedagogical strategies to better meet the needs of this at-risk student population.

This study was conducted at the University of South Florida (USF), a large, public research university in Tampa. Participants were recruited from the Freshman Summer Institute (FSI), a summer bridge program for first-generation students at USF.

Theoretical frameworks from higher education and adult education literature merged to provide an understanding of self-direction for the context of this study. Student retention and social integration theories from Tinto and Astin were studied, as they have been widely used to assist higher education professionals in understanding the reasons students leave college and to assist administrators in the development of strategies and programs to aid in the retention of at-risk students. An example of a retention strategy is the summer bridge program, used by a variety of colleges and universities to increase persistence of at-risk student populations.

The adult education theory of self-directed learning complemented Tinto and Astin's theories. The Personal Responsibility Orientation (PRO) Model (Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991) served as a theoretical framework for understanding self-direction among the participants in the study. The PRO Model posits that learners utilize personal responsibility through the characteristics of the teaching-learning transaction along with their own personal learning characteristics to achieve self-directed learning within a broader social context.

The Personal Responsibility Orientation to Self-Direction in Learning Scale (PRO- SDLS), based on a conceptualization of the PRO Model, was used to quantitatively measure self-directed learning among participation in the FSI Program. A series of correlations, dependent means t-tests, and factorial ANOVA's were conducted to examine the relationship between scores on both pre-test and post-test administrations of the PRO-SDLS. In addition to an investigation of the change in self-direction, relationships between academic achievement, gender, and ethnicity was also examined in the study.

Measured increases in overall self-directedness as measured by the pre-test and post-test administrations of the PRO-SDLS were not considered statistically significant, however, significant correlational relationships (p <.01) were found between academic achievement and total PRO-SDLS scores. Subcomponent measurements of learner control and self-efficacy were also highly correlated to both admissions GPA and university GPA. No significant relationships were found between ethnicity, gender and scores on the PRO-SDLS.

An implication for practice indicates that a shift in teaching pedagogy may be an integral component to increasing the academic success of first-year college students. Higher education faculty should be challenged to design curriculum that relies less on rote memorization and "spoon feeding" information to students. Instead, a learner-centered curriculum which gives control of the learning process to students is vital to instilling the habits of highly self-directed learners. In addition to revamped pedagogical strategies, this study calls for the development of national benchmarks and guidelines to more effectively evaluate the quality and impact of summer bridge programs.