School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Lucinda Spaulding


Dropout, Attrition, Persistence, High School Dropout, Self-determination, Doctorate Graduation, PhD, Motivation, Faith


Curriculum and Instruction | Education


The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study was to describe the lived experiences of former high school dropouts in the Continental United States who self-determined to persist to doctoral degree attainment. The theory that guided this study was the self-determination theory with support from the self-efficacy theory and adult learning theory. These three theories framed this study, which sought to discover the motivating factors, life influences, and perseverance required of former high school dropouts who determined to re-enter academia and pursue an education to the doctoral level. The problem this study sought to address was the need to discover the ongoing and necessary motivation, self-determination, and perseverance of high school dropouts who have returned to school to pursue graduate studies to the doctoral level. The participants’ lived experiences were gathered through a demographic survey, personal interviews, open-ended questions, journals, observations, and letter writing. The study was undertaken within an interpretive framework through the social constructivism worldview. Data analysis was achieved by bracketing, categorization into significant concepts and themes, and textural and structural descriptions. The participants’ lived experiences were investigated to discover their essential universal experience. The essence of the phenomenon was the discovery of the necessary self-motivation and persistence of individuals who graduate with a doctorate degree as former high school dropouts despite the many obstacles. Core themes were (a) personal suffering increased self-determination, (b) overcoming negative childhood experiences motivated academic accomplishment, and (c) the pursuit and attainment of a doctoral degree was life-changing and accomplished through faith.