Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Wendy Simonds - Chair

Second Advisor

Ralph LaRossa

Third Advisor

Charles A. Gallagher


After U.S. welfare was reformed in 1996, many states eliminated their educational programs and replaced them with "work-first" options. This study uses in-depth interviews and content analysis of current and proposed welfare legislation to examine how these policy changes have shaped the experiences of postsecondary students participating in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and to determine whether or not proposed policy changes in TANF reauthorization legislation meet the needs of students. To fulfill the first objective of this study, I conducted interviews with 20 TANF participants who were using enrollment in a postsecondary institution as a means of satisfying their TANF work requirements and 10 TANF case managers who were familiar with the program's policies and procedures. The interviews were conducted in Georgia, one of 13 states that until 2003 explicitly allowed participants to use postsecondary education as a means of meeting work activity requirements. To fulfill the second objective of this study, I analyzed the content of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) and current legislative proposals reauthorizing the act. I find that a variety of internal and external forces -- including one's beliefs regarding education and parenting, one's familial obligations and support systems, and one's receipt of academic and financial aid -- collectively shape students' experiences and likelihood of educational success in various ways. I also determine that the TANF program itself, in particular the emphasis on increasing participation rates and restrictive definitions of acceptable work activities, prevent students from succeeding. These findings are relevant for researchers and policymakers intent on more fully understanding the effects of contemporary U.S. welfare reform and reveal the limitations of current welfare reauthorization acts that seek to further limit educational opportunities of economically-poor women.


Included in

Sociology Commons