Our Journeys: A Narrative Inquiry into the Experiences of Students from Working Class Backgrounds as They Pursue Higher Education

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Students from working class backgrounds are less likely to graduate from college than their middle class peers. This narrative inquiry explores the personal stories of four graduate students from working class backgrounds who recently earned masters' degrees at a large public online university in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. By considering themes in the participants' narratives in juxtaposition to those found in the grand narrative of working class students found in the literature, the author reveals elements in the participants' experiences that conform to, challenge, and stand outside of the grand narrative the informs current understanding of the inhibiting and facilitating factors that influence the success of working class students in higher education. Themes related to economic disadvantage, poor academic preparation, lack of moral support and financial stressors illustrate concepts of the grand narrative. Themes related to family structure, self-regulation, and deference to authority challenge the dominant discourse of the grand narrative. Emergent themes of individualism, individualization, self-determination and perseverance stand outside the grand narrative, countering its story of deficit, and illustrating the power of narratives in providing insights into the multiple realities of working class students.