Date of Award

Spring 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Dr. Lilian Hill

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Kyna Shelley

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Richard Mohn

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Dr. Thomas Lipscomb

Committee Member 4 School



First-generation students, and particularly African Americans, are historically underserved in terms of college access and success. During college, they often carry greater financial responsibilities and remain less likely to be engaged in activities, both academic and social, that promote academic success. Becoming a collegiate athlete may increase a student’s financial capacity to successfully complete college.

This study examined whether being a collegiate athlete was related to greater college financial accessibility, particularly for first-generation students. The study included 537 undergraduate African-American students from 5 Mississippi colleges and universities. I hypothesized that (1) athletic status is related to college financial accessibility for first-generation students; (2) generation status is related to academic success for student athletes; and (3) generation status is related to graduation and professional expectations for student athletes.

Data were collected via web-based and in-person self-reported student surveys. Rational Choice Theory was used to guide survey question selection and analyses. Spearman correlations, chi-square tests, ANOVA, and logistic regression were used for the statistical analyses. A total of 225 (41.9%) were first generation students, 167 (31.1%) were athletes; and 64 (28.4%) were first-generation and student athletes.

Fewer first-generation athletes than non-athletes received Pell grants (p = .011) or loans (p = p = .026). When compared to non-first generation students, first-generation student athletes had higher odds of committing more time to academics than sports (log-odds ratio=0.819, SE=0.352, p=.020). Similar proportions of the first-generation student-athletes (63.3%) and non-first-generation athletes (50.0%) planned to pursue sports as a professional career (p = .115). Regardless of generation, athletes most often free-associated “college” with “success”, then “future”, “everything”, “employment” and “knowledge” in an open-ended question.

Participation in collegiate sports can enhance access to college for underserved students. Across generational status, pursuing professional careers were important outcomes. First-generation students may receive fewer financial supports than later-generation students but may be increasing access for future generations within their families. Non-first-generation athletes may be more aware of financial and academic support resources they can access as athletes.