Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Psychology and Special Education

First Advisor

Joseph P. Magliano

Second Advisor

Daphne Greenberg

Third Advisor

Kathryn McCarthy

Fourth Advisor

Scott Crossley


Many students enter college underprepared to meet the literacy demands they encounter. There are calls for cognitively oriented research aimed at understanding the strengths and challenges of these readers, especially those enrolled in developmental education courses designed to improve literacy skills. The purpose of this dissertation was to better understand the basis of the difficulties faced by struggling college readers.

In chapter one, the Reading Systems Framework (RFS; Perfetti & Stafure, 2014) was utilized to examine prior research on struggling college readers and accordingly, research related to word identification, lexical processes, and higher-level comprehension strategies was explored. Additionally, literature exploring complex, interactive relations between reading systems was explored. The review illustrates the utility of the RSF to understand struggling college readers and identifies areas where more research is needed.

Chapter two presents a study that examined the relations among proficiency in component reading skills, one’s propensity to engage reading strategies, and enrollment in DE courses. Participants (N = 258) completed a measure of component reading skills (word recognition/decoding, vocabulary, morphology, sentence processing) as well as a think-aloud measure, wherein they produced written responses while reading texts. Responses were scored based on evidence of reading strategies (paraphrasing, bridging, and elaboration) and their overall quality in supporting comprehension. Logistic regression was used to assess the extent to which one’s proficiency in component reading skills and use of reading strategies could be utilized to predict whether participants were enrolled in DE courses. Results indicated that proficiency in reading skills was related to enrollment in DE courses but that the use of reading strategies was not. Cumulative links mixed effects models were used to assess the extent to which proficiency in component reading skills and DE enrollment were differentially related to the use of reading strategies and the overall quality of participant’s responses. Results indicated that vocabulary was a positive predictor of bridging and elaboration scores. Moreover, vocabulary and word recognition/decoding positively predicted the overall quality of responses. DE enrollment was a negative predictor of elaboration scores, suggesting that DE readers were less likely to produce elaborations. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.


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