Date of Award

Fall 2020

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, PhD


School of Educational Studies

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Linda Perkins

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Mary Poplin

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Gilda Ochoa

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2020 Eric M. Michael


community college, stereotype threat, stigma, transfer, transition, UMass

Subject Categories

Community College Education Administration | Education | Higher Education


Despite impressive statistics related to community college transfer student achievement, negative perceptions and stigma attached to attending community college persist. The problem addressed by this phenomenological study is the community college stigma experience for transfer students attending the most highly-ranked public university in Massachusetts: UMass Amherst. This dissertation pioneers use of a conceptual framework built from the elements of stereotype threat to illustrate experienced community college stigma; Specifically, it begins to address the forty-year-old unsubstantiated contention of William Neumann and David Riesman, that there is less stigma attached to attending community college in California than in Massachusetts. Broken down to its core elements, the situational phenomenon of stereotype threat includes 1.) existence of a stigmatized group, 2.) a situational “trigger” causing members of the stigmatized group (“targets”) concern about being judged or treated negatively on the basis of that stigma, and 3.) a consequential impact on a target’s immediate performance, self-perception, identity, and/or sense of belonging. Phenomenological analysis of interview data for 20 current students found the lived experience for community college transfer students attending UMass spans three distinct periods: Pre-UMass, the Community college-to-UMass transition, and Being a UMass community college transfer student. Elements of the stereotype threat framework presented themselves during each period of students’ lived experience, suggesting community college transfer students attending UMass are a stigmatized group susceptible to potential consequences of chronic stereotype threat. (i.e. domain dis-identification and domain abandonment). This examination of students’ stigma experience in Massachusetts justifies replication at a highly-ranked public university in California, so as to definitively support or contradict Neumann and Riesman’s decades old contention.