High School Dropouts: Adult Motivations to Return & Attend


Each year the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) releases the Ohio schools report card for the 2017-2018 school year. Standard report cards for traditional high schools receive a letter grade A-F on a number of criteria. Dropout- Recovery high schools however, receive a report card that either “Meets Standards or “Does Not Meet Standards”. For the 2017-2018 school year, Life Skills High School of Toledo did not meet standards, primarily due to the low graduation rate. On a national scale, according to a study done on education reform, more than 1.

2 million students drop out of high school in the United States each year (Miller, 2015). Although these are statics focused on academic criteria, what motivates students to learn, effects how effectively they learn, and furthermore helps to improve graduation rates.

Given this data, I am interested in researching the motivations of these students who have dropped out of high school, and decided to return with intent to graduate with an accredited high school diploma, instead of obtaining a general education diploma (G.

E.D.). Furthermore, I am interested in what students think the school can do to help keep them engaged. Understanding what encourages students to attend school every day is extremely important for retention. The more successful a dropout recovery school is with retention efforts, the more likely the students are to graduate.

I have evaluated the proposed research by way of reviewing available studies about dropout recovery high schools, as well as briefly examining some of the statistics on graduation and dropout rates at Life Skills, and in the United States.

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Theoretical Framework

There are several theories about motivation, but the one that I would like to utilize to help construct my research methods is McClelland’s Theory of Needs. This theory asserts that there are three main needs of people, one of which must be dominant. These needs include achievement, affiliation, and power. Using this theory will be helpful as a base for creating the themes of student attendance motivation during the interview process.

Literature Review

There has been very little research conducted specifically on credit recovery schools. Although there is research and policies put in place to prevent students from dropping out, there is a huge lack in studies focused on re engagement of dropout students (Zammitt & Anderson Ketchmark, 2011). Fortunately, in 2018, it is more common to have alternative schools specifically geared towards students who have dropped out.

The context of the majority of available literature on dropout schools are concentrated on the online curriculum aspects. Evan Lieberman conducted research on counselors’ perceptions on credit recovery programs’ use of online education (2002). He individually interviewed 8 high school counselors who have experience with credit recovery, and found themes through the interviews. One of the key themes that Lieberman found was that the counselors thought that online credit recovery could motivate students to finish high school, but perceived that the program would fail to truly educate students. Online education programs such as Apex learning, are the common curriculum for credit and dropout recovery programs, as well as schools. The online nature of the schools, does not require students to be on the school’s campus, resulting in students being routinely absent from school. Poor attendance is a key indicator that a student is likely to drop out of high school (Schoeneberger, 2011), or dropout again from an alternative school. Although a traumatic event sometimes occurs preventing students to attend school regularly, typically students have poor attendance due to disengagement (Schoeneberger, 2011).

Bigelow conducted a study in a traditional high school setting comparing the differences between high school students who took online courses and on ground courses, to better understand how the learning medium supported student engagement (2016). Clearly engagement is an important factor in the educational process, especially if the cause of the initial reason for dropping out was due to lack of engagement. Concerning student engagement, Andrea Walker, of Trevecca Nazarene University was interested in understanding students’ relationships with school faculty and staff. She looked at the relational component of a credit recovery high school in Ohio, and found that drop out recovery high schools will not be able to successfully graduate students if they focus solely on academics (2017). This indicates that for student engagement to be effective, it must entail relationship building components. Thus, relationships aid in motivating students. Zammitt and Ketchmark note the key characteristics these alternative schools should have: students being able to work at their own pace, flexible scheduling, informal relationships with faculty and administrators, career oriented curriculum, employment opportunities, enforcement of clear codes of conduct, support services, and several available program options (2011). A student who attends a dropout recovery school that has these components, yet continues to be absent from school, is endangered of dropping out again. These students must be analyzed. Furthermore, Entwise, Alexander et al., examined the differences in temperament and motivators in temporary and permanent dropouts (2004). Permanent dropouts are those who will receive a G.E.D., and temporary dropouts are student who return to school to get their diploma. The study finds that temporary dropouts are more likely to have positive temperaments in comparison to permanent dropouts. These students are also more likely to gain employment within the same year that they drop out of high school (Entwise, Alexander, et al., 2004).

Given the available literature it is evident that there is a need to assess why adult students in dropout recovery school choose to get their diploma, even though they are not required by law to do so.

Other Evaluations

I work at Life Skills High School of Toledo, a school focused on graduating students who have either dropped out of school, or fallen so far behind in a traditional school, that they will age out of the program. The student population at LS would be considered either high-risk or at-risk for not completing high school. Although students can attend LS starting at the age of 16, there are many students who fall between the ages of 18 and 21. In addition to going to school, these students may also be employed full time, taking care of their own children, or paying bills because they live alone. Given their age and the availability of G.E.D. courses in the area as an option, I am curious as to why these students are taking the route to get an accredited high school diploma. The process requires more time in the classroom, and in many cases greater academic effort.

Each week the Life Skills staff and administration meet to discuss the students with consecutive absences, and brainstorm ways to retain them. Typically, these students come from the adult population. The staff examines techniques to re-engage students or offer incentives that would encourage them to continue coming to school. On the other hand, there are several adult students who attend school on a regular basis. What motivates these regular attending students to come to school?

The above literature review combined with my current experience with dropout recovery students has helped to inform the proposed research.

Research Questions

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, individuals are first motivated by physiological needs. It is very possible that some students’ basic needs are not being met. Followed by physiological needs are safety needs. Some LSHS students may not feel safe walking or riding the bus to school. Furthermore, within the school, students may feel unsafe. Although I am not utilizing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as the main theoretical framework behind this research, it can be useful as an informant of the reasons for which students are unmotivated.

Question 1: Are adult students who attend credit recovery schools motivated to attend class regularly?

I assume that students who are adults, likely come to school because they want to. But why do they want to? At Life Skills High School more than half of the adult students are absent 1-2 days each week. This leads me to ask, are students motivated to come to school?

Question 2: What motivates credit recovery students to attend school?

It may seem redundant to ask what motivates students to attend after posing the question that asks if they are in fact motivated at all. However, because around half of the adult population attends school regularly (85% attendance or more for the given school year), it is imperative to understand what is driving these students to come to school. Are there extrinsic motivators, such as the high school diploma and furthermore a more rewarding income? Or is it an intrinsic motivation, such as students feeling fulfilled and content with themselves? Also, are these motivators or incentives inaccessible to students who are frequently absent?

Question 3: What are practical ways that school administrators can increase motivation among credit recovery students?

After answering the above two questions, it is important to look to the future. Understanding what motivates students, holds little purpose without finding practical ways to utilize the findings as a means to increase student motivation. If motivated students are receiving incentives that are inaccessible to the absentee population, how can school administrators supplement that need, or make their circumstances less of a barrier to their attendance?

Gaining Access

Given my position at LSHS I have contact with most students 4 days each week. This will allow me to talk with students about the different factors that motivate them to attend school. As well having access to the students interpersonally, I have access to their attendance records. Access to these records could be used to understand the comparison between how motivated students say they are to attend school with their actual attendance.

Research Design

The design of this study will be primarily individual interviews. However, the interview data will be used alongside data from a questionnaire, and student attendance records.


All students in the school ages 18 years and older will take an assessment. The sample population will be selected after questionnaires are complete so that all needs will be represented. This assessment will be a 30 item McClelland’s Needs Questionnaire. In this questionnaire, students will be given thirty statements that will indicate their need for achievement, affiliation, or power. There are 10 items that correlate with each need. The questionnaire will not be anonymous. Being able to identify which surveys belong to each student will allow me to better analyze their attendance patterns, as well as assist a much more organized data collection process. For verification purposes, after completing the survey, I will add up the scores, and have two other assistants add up the scores twice more.

  1. People like to tell me their problems because they know I will help them
  2. I am quite effective in getting others to agree with me
  3. I often set goals that are very difficult to reach
  4. I feel any job done should be done thoroughly if you do it at all
  5. I feel confident when directing the work of others
  6. Job titles have meaning and significance
  7. I feel uneasy when I have to tell others what to do
  8. I spend a lot of time visiting with friends and family
  9. In an argument, I can usually win others over to my side
  10. Even when I am feeling ill, I will continue working if it is important
  11. I enjoy the opportunity to exercise control over an organization or group
  12. I enjoy challenging work
  13. I choose hobbies that I can share with other people
  14.  I continuously look for ways of doing things better and faster
  15.  Opportunities to become widely known are important to me
  16.  I am uncomfortable in situations that involve conflict with others
  17. I am somewhat of a perfectionist and like to have things
  18. done just right
  19. I prefer to eat lunch on a regular basis with a group of people, rather than by myself
  20.  When standing in line, I don’t let others get in front of me
  21. I am uncomfortable complaining if I receive bad service in a restaurant
  22.  It is important to me to seek feedback on how well I am performing
  23. I would work just as hard whether or not I had to earn a living
  24. I seldom try to draw attention to myself
  25. Being well liked by others is very important to me
  26. I often take new employees under my wing and mentor them
  27.  I will not be satisfied until I am the best in my field of work
  28. Possessions that are impressive to others are important to me
  29.  I don’t like to have the responsibility for directing the work of others
  30. I enjoy competing with others
  31.  I enjoy opportunities to influence others

The following questions indicate a need for Affiliation: 1, 7, 8, 13, 16, 18, 20, 23, 24, 28

The following questions indicate a need for Achievement: 3, 4, 10, 12, 14, 17, 21, 22, 26, 29

The following questions indicate a need for

Power: 2, 5, 6, 9, 11, 15, 19, 25, 27, 30


There is a total of 66 students in the school who are 18 years of age or older. The sample population used for this research will be 9 students (around 10% of the total population) between the ages of 18 and 21. I will interview 3 students with high attendance 90-100%, 3 students with average attendance 80-89%, and 3 students who have low attendance (70 to 79%). In each of the three attendance categories, there will be 1 student who has a need for power, 1 student who has a need for affiliation, and 1 who has a need for achievement. 6 participants will be male, and 6 participants will be female. Enrollment at LSHS is rolling. Given the ongoing student intake and output, in an effort to get an accurate understanding, all participants will have attended LSHS for at least 3 months.


Individual Interview

I will ask the students a series of questions, using an interview guide. These questions will be formatted with an intent to understand why students are motivated to come to school, what circumstances that may prevent them from coming must be overcome to be present, as well as how the school can increase their motivation. I will use a guide, opposed to a schedule, because the questions may change as I collect thematic data through the interviews.


  1. How often would you say you attend school?
  2. When you attend school, what encourages you to do so?
  3. Typically, when you miss school, what is the reason for your absence?
  4. In the last school you attended, would you consider yourself to be engaged? (a. If yes: What about the school or the people, there made you to feel engaged? b. If no: Could you give examples of times in which you were extremely disengaged while at school?)
  5. How long were you out of school before you enrolled in a dropout recovery school? (Name other dropout recovery schools so student is clear i.e.: Achieve, Nexus, Phoenix) (a. What influenced your decision to return to school?)
  6. Despite legally being considered an adult, is there anything or anyone making or forcing you to come to school? (a. If yes: Who or What? i. If this person or thing as not forcing you to come to school, would you come at all? )b. If no: If there was, and your attendance was mandatory, how do you think this impact your school attendance?
  7. What are the top three things that motivate you to come to school? (a. When did these things begin to motivate you?)
  8. Has your age influenced your decision to attend school?

Protection of Human Rights

To protect the rights, reservations and identities of the students, I will use another school name to replace Life Skills, and refrain from mentioning the specific location of the school, as well as refer to them simply as participants (#). I will allow students to sign a contract which allows me to use their attendance records in addition to the questionnaire and interview data. Since all students are above the age of 18, parental consent will not be necessary. Some students may have very unique backgrounds, making them easier to identify than others. This will be listed as a risk in the contract.


  1. Bigelow, Stephen C. High school student engagement in online and on-ground courses.
  2. Entwisle, D. R., Alexander, K. L., & Olson, L. S. (2004). Temporary as compared to permanent high school dropout. Social Forces, 82(3), 1181-1205.
  3. Lieberman, Evan M. (2017) A Phenomenological Narrative Study: High School Counselors’ Perceptions of Online Credit Recovery Programs.
  4. Miller, Tony. ‘Partnering for Education Reform.’ U.S. Department of Education. Accessed February 18, 2015.
  5. Jason A. Schoeneberger (2012) Longitudinal Attendance Patterns: Developing High School Dropouts, The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 85:1, 7-14.
  6. Walker, Andrea C. (2018) The Effects of Administrative/Teacher/Student Relationships on Online Credit Course Recovery and Credit Attainment of at-Risk Second Year Students.
  7. Zammitt, K. A., & Anderson-Ketchmark, C. (2011). Understanding Dropout Recovery. Children & Schools, 33(4), 249–251.

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High School Dropouts: Adult Motivations to Return & Attend. (2021, Apr 03). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/high-school-dropouts-adult-motivations-to-return-attend-essay

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