Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation in Practice

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Morgridge College of Education, Higher Education

First Advisor

Christine A. Nelson

Second Advisor

Kara C. Allen

Third Advisor

Michele Tyson


College access, Community cultural wealth, Community organizations, Deficit, Postsecondary, Strengths


One of the most persistent barriers within the education system preventing students of color from accessing and persisting in higher education is the deficit lens that the education system uses to judge college-worthy students. To combat this deficit lens, strengths-based programming has shown promise in validating the strengths and students bring to their postsecondary journey. This fourth-generation program evaluation amplifies the experiences of students of color within a strength-based postsecondary access program in Greater Boston, Massachusetts. Through interviews and focus groups, students, and alums of color in the Cornerstone program shared the experience that was most meaningful to them, and discussed their postsecondary journeys both with Cornerstone, and after graduation. Findings that emerged from the participants’ discussions include a focus on programming that provides opportunity for connection and collective achievement and finding a sense of family and safety at Cornerstone. Students also highlighted the alums and staff of the program were mentors and models for their future. Additionally, participants highlighted Cornerstone’s postsecondary programming as individualized, which was both a strength and challenge for the program, transitioning to isolation and a lack of safety on their college campuses. Recommendations include embracing the sense of family participants’ highlight and finding opportunities to make postsecondary programming collective in its focus.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Allyson Gunn


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

252 pgs


Education, Higher education