Unspoken Words Beyond the Numbers: Lived Experiences of Low Socioeconomic Status Post-Secondary Students
Social mobility , SES , Low-income students , Higher education , Lived experience , Phenomenology , Qualitative research
Over the past few years, there has been a growing interest amongst education stakeholders and institutional organizations across Canada, to increase access to post-secondary education (PSE) for students from low-socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. More specifically, this study sought to understand these dynamics within an Ontario higher education context. Despite low-income students having some degree of access to PSE through the current and past provincial policies (e.g., domestic tuition freezes, slashing university tuition by 10%, access to the Ontario Student Assistant Program; OSAP), education stakeholders have failed to accommodate for these low-income students’ lived experiences (Usher, 2022). These experiences have been cited in the literature for having significant influences on low-SES student learning outcomes, and the overall student integrity and well-being throughout their PSE. Yet, there remains a grave disconnect between stakeholders, organizations, and policy makers, and the low-income students for whom these policies and practices are being designed and implemented. In essence, these entities of authority have forgotten the low-income student voices. By utilizing a phenomenological research approach, this study sought to bridge this gap, and capture the rich accounts of these participants lived experiences through one-on-one interviews. Additionally, this study also sought to understand how these lived experiences shaped these students’ learning outcomes throughout their first year of PSE. By utilizing Social Constructivism theory to inform the findings and construction of a working theory model, this study adds to the literature by exploring how these lived experiences were felt and operationalized as actions amongst these low-income participants. Stakeholders and policy makers concerned with educational persistence and outcomes, can use the findings and recommendations laid out in this study, to help low-income students across a variety of settings and circumstances.