Date of Conferral





Human Services


Gregory Hickman


In the early 1980s, the United States experienced a high school dropout epidemic, leading school systems to adopt reform efforts. College readiness programs (CRPs) became a tool to address educational disparities in secondary and postsecondary education for over three decades. While decreases occurred in the overall high school dropout rate across racial and ethnic groups, they have been minimal. This study addressed a research gap on the lack of student input and perceptions about their experiences in CRP programs. This phenomenological study used in-depth, semi-structured interviews with criterion-selected former high school students from 3 schools within the ABC County School System in the southern United States. The sample of 12 students provided data about their lived experiences as Project GRAD scholars. The theoretical framework for this study was Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory (EST) based on human development and systems of the environment. Based on results of the interview questions and emergence of themes, 95% of the students indicated their motivation for attending college was based on family. While the traditional college readiness program had some positive influence on student's secondary and post-secondary plans, such programs were not the primary contributing factor, but rather parental/family support was. Furthermore, personal student accounts of their involvement with the Project GRAD program reflect a positive experience. However, such accounts did not reflect a consistent and active supporting relationship with the organization. This finding is in opposition to reported data by many college readiness programs. Implications for social change will bring awareness and modification to programs with the intent of alleviating educational dropout epidemics.