Date of Award

Spring 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Human Capital Development


Interdisciplinary Studies and Professional Development

Committee Chair

Quincy Brown

Committee Chair Department

Human Capital Development

Committee Member 2

Heather M. Annulis

Committee Member 2 Department

Human Capital Development

Committee Member 3

Cyndi H. Gaudet

Committee Member 3 Department

Human Capital Development

Committee Member 4

Dale L. Lunsford

Committee Member 4 Department

Human Capital Development


According to data from the U. S. Census Bureau (2016), Native Americans have the lowest postsecondary education completion rate (13.8%) among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States; and simultaneously, Native Americans had the second highest unemployment rate among all ethnic groups. A positive and direct correlation exists between a community’s economic growth and the attainment of higher education by members within that community (Becker, 1994; Fann, 2009). Though 567 federally recognized tribes exist in the United States, this research study focuses on one tribe, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI). The national postsecondary six-year completion rate for the 2010 cohort was 54.8% (Shapiro et al., 2016). During the same period, the post-secondary completion rate for MBCI tribal members who used the tribe’s scholarship program was 20.6%.

This study identified barriers and enablers that influence MBCI tribal members’ persistence in higher education programs in order to support effective strategies to help increase the post-secondary completion rate for tribal members. The concept of social support (Cobb, 1976; Vaux et al., 1986), self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2008), self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1977, 1989), transculturation theory (Hallowell, 1963; Huffman, 2001), and integration theory (Oxendine, 2015; Tinto, 1975, 2006) form the theoretical foundation to support the influencing factors affecting MBCI students in higher education programs. The enablers identified in this study include self-determination, to be a role model, Choctaw pride, personal goals, a positive support system, acceptance and involvement, and the utilization of student support services. The barriers identified include self-doubt, lack of preparation, personal struggles, school/life balance, lack of support, and lack of necessities.

Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to interpret the lived collegiate experiences of MBCI tribal members. The importance of personal support networks, academic preparedness, a sense of belongingness, and self-determination for the persistence of MBCI students throughout post-secondary education programs were identified. The findings and recommendations could be valuable to tribal leaders and educators to develop effective strategies to increase MBCI students’ persistence in institutions of higher education.