Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




M. Sharon Herbers


Esmeralda De Los Santos


Elda Martinez


Research Focus. The Latino population is the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority in the United States. While Latino college enrollment is increasing, and dropout rates are decreasing, Latinas continue to trail behind Whites in college education and degree attainment. Latina degree attainment is half of White students, and the trend has continued since 2000 (Barshay, 2018; Harris & Tienda, 2012; Pew Research, 2019). The first step in correcting a problem is to recognize that the problem exists (Escobedo, 1980). Underrepresentation of Latinas in education has been an issue that has been addressed, but until the last few decades, corrective measures have often failed to produce favorable outcomes. Perchance the underrepresentation that overshadows Latinas is due to factors hindering degree attainment that are not clearly understood. Latina culture is foundational and a point of reference on which participants built their lives. The culture is deeply rooted in a way of life that values family above all else and measures success by the strength of those family ties (Chavez, 1991). Understanding Latino cultural values reveals how culture affects socialization and, consequently, education. The focus of this study is on Latinas who attained their doctoral degrees. The purpose is to identify influential factors that contributed to their successful terminal degree attainment and the role that family played in supporting or hindering their educationalachievement.

Research Methods. Nine south Texas Latinas were interviewed for this phenomenological study. The essence of this study was the participants’ personal interpretation of experiences that contributed to their successful achievement of their doctoral degrees. This research study was framed using a qualitative phenomenological approach for data collection and interpretation with the intent of understanding the meaning that individuals gave their educational journey and the effect their experiences had on educational attainment (Clark, 2009; Creswell, 2009; Rallis & Rossman, 2003).

Research Results/Findings. From the data emerged five major themes and five subthemes: 1. Education and Culture: Motivation and Challenges (subthemes: Education as key to a successful future; Finding it out for yourself; Learning successful strategies); 2. Significance of Support Systems (subthemes: Mother as key figure; Other support systems); 3. Adapting to Change; 4. Emerging stronger through resilience, persistence, and empowerment; and 5. Stress Management. Study results, limitations, implications, and recommendations for future research are discussed.

Conclusions From Research. The most important findings in this study were the identification of the significance of support systems and the recognition that multiple sources were critical to degree completion. Support sources were usually family members, but the support of peers, mentors, friends, and faculty members also contributed to success. Support came in many forms. Spousal support provided an additional and unexpected support system that expanded the Latinas’ circle of support. It is important to honor that there were changes in the Latino culture that had a positive impact. Further research is needed to examine how significant others can take a more pro-active role in assisting their loved one through the doctoral program. It is important to study Latinas who failed to complete their doctoral program to identify factors that hindered earning their doctoral degrees. For some of the participants in this study, mentorship provided guidance that enabled understanding of the requirements of the doctoral program. For some, mentorship was lacking and affected their ability efficiently to navigate higher education. The demands of the program produced varying degrees of difficulty, with some of those problems imposed by peers, and negative behavior was not always discouraged by mentors. Research is needed to explore how efficacious mentors facilitate the transition and successful navigation of the doctoral program. Lastly, the Latinas in this study were all south Texas residents. Research is needed to explore if the rate of Latina/o doctoral degree attainment is higher in localities with a high Latino population as opposed to other regions (Martinez, 2005). Research on doctoral degree completion in different geographical regions in Texas and perhaps the United States would be beneficial to explore to determine if the ethnic mix in a specific locale impacts doctoral completion rate.