Department or Program


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Markella Rutherford


This thesis uses theories of social and cultural capital to explain how community college students are capital-rich individuals who navigate their community colleges with strategies that reflect and build on their class habitus. In depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 46 traditional-aged college students at Midwestern Community College. Qualitative analysis revealed that students’ social and cultural capital allows them to experience the community college in four distinct ways: as an Involved Student Leader, a Visiting Collegian, a Free Rider, or a Determined but Disconnected student. Involved Student Leaders and Visiting Collegians, with institution-valued forms of capital, have socially and academically integrated experiences at the college, and work to extend their capital to others. Free Riders’ low academic orientation but middle class habitus is amenable to being on the receiving end of capital exchange. Determined but Disconnected students have mismatched strategies and forms of capital that exclude them from the active exchange and acquisition of social and cultural capital at the community college. Student experiences reveal that community college is a field in which students are actors who aid in each other’s success. However, this level of higher education must value all forms of social and cultural capital if it is to be an institution where all students have an equal chance at succeeding.