The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

Higher Education Administration: Ed.D.


Educational Administration and Higher Education


School of Education

First Advisor

Rachel Friedensen

Second Advisor

Steven McCullar

Third Advisor

Jennifer Jones

Fourth Advisor

Linda McCann

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

Swirling, educational journey, persistence, retention, educational interruptions


Many students who wish to receive a post-secondary undergraduate degree do not take a linear path. Instead, they opt for a multiple educational institution pathway (swirling) to accomplish an undergraduate degree. Unfortunately, swirling has its complexities and challenges, and many students will drop out of college and not return to obtain a degree. While there is research on this growing population, there is little specifically from the viewpoint of the student, thus lacking the complete story from the swirling students themselves. This study adds to the literature on swirling students and to understanding the cognitive, social, and institutional challenges and supports they encountered along the way.

The purpose of this qualitative narrative inquiry study was to investigate the experiences of students who attended multiple educational institutions (swirling) and successfully transitioned into a four-year public urban university and completed an undergraduate degree. Six participants, in their last semester before graduation, volunteered to participate in this study. This study will reveal each participant’s swirling journey, including the education interruptions and re-entries they experienced. Emerging themes will be revealed that include high school preparation, individual persistence, family influences, and institutional barriers and supports. The participant journey themes provide a glimpse into the individual struggles with racial inequity, English as a second language, and uncertainty of a career focus and expose institutional lack of communication and instructional care. The study will offer advice for students and provide practical suggestions for educational institution instruction, student services, and policy that may assist swirling students in their persistence to degree completion.



Journeys, whether they are life journeys or educational journeys, whether they are linear or swirling or even circular, are not traveled alone but are guided by an invisible hand and touched by the love and friendships of others. I am humbled and eternally grateful for the Lord’s watchful guidance and forgiveness over my missteps during this journey. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to continue my education past a four-year degree, let along reach the apex of a doctorate. I am also extremely fortunate to have so many individuals in my life who provided support and encouragement during my dissertation process.

I offer my sincere thanks to the participants in this study Sally, Veronica, Mandy, Toto, Griz, and Bob. Their willingness to share their stories and their thoughtful and honest responses were inspiring. I learned from you the importance of being a genuine and caring instructor and was reminded of the impact, for good or bad, that an instructor can impart to students. I greatly appreciate the help and support of my committee, Dr. Rachel Friedensen, Dr. Jennifer Jones, Dr. Linda McCann, and Dr. Steven McCullar.

Special thanks to my colleague Dr. Linda McCann for the extra guidance she willingly offered on research topic ideas, methodologies, course structures, and teaching methods.

I am thankful for my family’s support, understanding, love, and encouragement throughout the past four years. My son Michael Hirsch for his encouragement for me to enroll in the Doctoral Program. My life partner Darlene Miller for accepting all the time needed to attend school and study, for being a sounding board, and for providing that needed nudge to keep me moving forward.

Dedicated with heartfelt love to my dear parents Ivan and Mildred Hirsch, who have been my untiring supporters throughout my life. You have provided inspiration and encouragement in all my endeavors. I am humbled and grateful for your unconditional love, fervent prayers on my behalf, and for your Christian example. I am fortunate and proud to share with Dad, the honor, privilege, and responsibility of serving others through the profession of teaching.



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