Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Thomas Cavanagh


As the number of youth at risk for educational failure has increased, so has the debate over the appropriate nature of career and technical education (CTE) programs for such youth. The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding about the manner in which CTE programs within vocational schools affected secondary students at risk for educational failure. The educational theories of Pestalozzi, Dewey, and Rousseau served as the conceptual framework for this study by supporting the development of students' intellectual, social, and emotional growth through hands-on activities rather than traditional rote learning. Data for this case study were collected through interviews and observations from 9 purposefully selected students enrolled in vocational school CTE programs. Qualitative strategies of memoing and coding supported interpretative data analysis for this case study. The participants revealed that their CTE programs had a positive impact on their lives. Findings that emerged from this study centered on job security, hands-on learning, and personal growth. These findings provide important empirical evidence of the utility of CTE programs for at-risk students. This evidence contributes to positive social change by illuminating an alternative education setting that enables at-risk students to attain and maintain academic success. This evidence also holds promise for positive social change by guiding the efforts of education stakeholders in determining the appropriate educational placement for at-risk students, placements that will promote a sense of belonging rather than alienation.