School of Education
Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction (EdD)
motivation, disability, poverty, graduate, self-determination
Special Education and Teaching
Steelman, Heather, "What Motivates Them to Graduate? A Phenomenological Study of the Experiences of Students With Disabilities Who Earn a High School Diploma in Title I Schools" (2021). Doctoral Dissertations and Projects. 3348.
The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study was to describe the lived experiences of students with disabilities in Title I schools that kept them motivated to earn a high school diploma. The central and sub questions explored factors associated with the attainment or fulfillment of basic psychological needs of competence, relatedness, and autonomy, as well as intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors. Title One high school graduates with disabilities, or students who had an individualized education plan (IEP) when they entered high school and continued to have an IEP through graduation, were identified through snowball sampling and participated in this study through interviews, a focus group, and letter writing. The methodology used was a transcendental phenomenological design and data analysis followed procedural recommendations. The theory guiding this study was the self-determination theory (SDT), as it describes motivational factors that lead to success. The textural and structural descriptions were synthesized to form the essence of the phenomenon and answer the research question: What are the lived experiences in Title I schools of students with disabilities who stayed motivated to earn a traditional high school diploma? Participants all described factors that led to their successful completion of high school. They each told of people, both a teacher in school and a family member at home, who supported them and encouraged them to continue when challenges arose. They all set goals for themselves to graduate and had personal attributes that caused them to persist through those challenges.