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Ashley Benson, Ph.D. is a 2020 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dr. Benson at her Dissertation Defense.

L-R: Dr. Jon Wergin, Committee Chair, Dr. Elizabeth Holloway, Committee Member, Dr. Michael Stebleton, Committee Member

Dissertation Committee

  • Jon Wergin, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Elizabeth Holloway, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Michael Stebleton, Ph.D., Committee Member


Higher Education, persistence, educational opportunity, community cultural wealth, psychological safety, retention, positive psychology, college students, TRIO

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This dissertation serves as a counter-narrative to the standard deficiency model in published research that characterizes most first-generation college students as feeble and unequipped when it comes to thriving in, persisting in, and graduating from college. This is one of the few studies that examines the success of first-generation college students from the students’ perspective. First-generation college students who graduated from college participated in a Delphi study that addressed this question: What factors influence first-generation college students' ability to graduate college? Three rounds of data collection resulted in ten themes, roughly in order of importance based on feedback from study participants: Self Starter, Financial Support, Finding a Passion, Social Network, Self-Development, Cultural/Identity Development, Family, Campus Resources and Programs, Work, and Service. The dissertation concludes with three sets of recommendations for improving outcomes of first-generation college students, aimed respectively at secondary school personnel, college officials, and first-generation college students themselves. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA: Antioch University Repository and Archive, and OhioLINK ETD Center,


Ashley C. Gray Benson Ph.D.

ORCID Scholar ID #: #0000-0002-0495-9927

Ashley C. Gray Benson, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of Students at The College of Wooster where she supports enrollment management, retention efforts, and crisis management. Ashley has extensive experience in Student Affairs and served as the Director of the TRIO Student Support Services at North Central State College. TRIO programs support first-generation, low-income, and students with disabilities to provide academic engagement, individualized support, and financial & career planning. Ashley earned a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Master of Education form Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH. Beyond first-generation college students, Ashley’s research interests include Student Affairs, Academic Services, student crisis management, student belonging & engagement, and leadership development.

Ashley’s passion for working with first-generation and low-income students developed from her experience as a teacher and stories her parents shared about their experiences as first-generation college students. When she began her work with TRIO programs, she quickly realized her parent’s stories were not unique. Thus, her passion grew into a lifelong commitment toward improving the support and experiences of first-generation college students. She has served as president of Ohio TRIO for two years while also serving on the board for the Educational Opportunity Association (EOA) for several years. Both organizations work to improve access and success for first-generation college students.

In her spare time, Ashley serves in her community. Ashley has served on the Women’s Advisory Board for the Richland County Foundation, presented workshops and been a keynote speaker on topics such as mental health, diversity and inclusion, and leadership; and she is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Ashley is an ordained minister and provides leadership training for her church, The Oasis of Love in Mansfield, OH, and the surrounding religious community.

Ashley has a vast support system stemming from her family, friends, church family, and sorority sisters. She is married to Brian Benson, Sr. and mother to Diamon, Miracle, and Brian, Jr., and grandmother to Amarion