Perceptions of "Dropouts" Recovered as Adults : A Life Course Case Study on Older High School Graduates Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/ns0648878

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  • Research has established that poor outcomes are the future for those without a high school diploma--yet students continue to drop out and become members of that population. The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate the experiences and perceptions of individuals who did not complete high school within the traditional age-graded time-frame, yet subsequently graduated from an adult high school program. Currently, in the United States, few secondary options exist for over-age dropouts. New Mexico and Indiana, however, are two states that allow public funding to pay for high school without imposing upper age limitations. For this case study, adult high school programs were identified in the aforementioned states, and purposive samples were selected. Eight participants were selected from the Gordon Bernell Charter School in New Mexico and 13 from Indiana’s Excel Centers. Of the 21 participants, 15 were female and six were male. Ages ranged from 21 to 70 years old. The study’s theoretical framework was anchored to Transformative Research, embedded in Social Constructivism, and analyzed through a Life Course Perspective. Life course examines complex interchanges and choices between individuals and their environments within time, socio-cultural, and economic constraints; and considers the effects of accumulated advantages and disadvantages. In this research, the themes that developed from interview responses were categorized and analyzed within the following five life course dimensions: a) time and place; b) linked lives; c) agency; d) timing; and e) life span development. A key finding revealed that changes in perspective had occurred over time--because the time and place changed--bringing participants to a new era in their lives. This change provided insight into past choices. Initial choices to drop out of school had become regret, but individuals were empowered to make different choices when given a new opportunity to finish high school. Timing also played into their decisions to return to high school when facing the needs of their growing children. Indications that people seek to grow and develop in positive and socially accepted ways over the life-span were evident in participants' diverse age groups and successes in graduating. These findings suggest that policies prohibiting public education beyond age 21 may need to be reviewed. Findings also implied that the cumulative disadvantages most of the participants had experienced in their youth had presented them with few perceived options regarding completion of high school. However, new opportunities allowed students to accumulate advantages that provided life-changing turning points and facilitated changes in life trajectories. Although results may not be generalizable to the greater population, sufficient insights exist to initiate a conversation around how adult high schools could help recover lost investments in secondary non-completers. Implications of this study have the potential to impact future policy and program development, inform adult education practitioners, and stimulate further research.
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