Stopping but never letting go: A qualitative study of African American adult students pursuing high school completion

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation


Roger Hiemstra


Adult students, High school completion, African-American, General Educational Development, GED

Subject Categories

Adult and Continuing Education and Teaching | African American Studies | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education


Very little information is available in the adult education literature about African American adults who participate in General Educational Development (GED diploma) programs. Therefore, to help fill the gap, this study examined the perspectives and characteristics of 12 African American adult GED students and the organization, functions, and classroom interactions within the GED program they attended while also providing a look at economic, social, and racial conditions that have shaped their lives. To understand the meaning that these men and women pursuing high school completion attached to their situation, a symbolic interactionism research framework was chosen to provide close participant contact and immersion into their everyday lives.

Findings from this study indicated that the African American race combined with poverty often has severe educational consequences for individuals with these characteristics. Second, contrary to what many other researchers have reported, the disadvantaged African Americans studied were not interested in completing high school for mainly economic reasons, but participated in education in pursuit of a better life overall. Third, by virtue of being African American, poor, and undereducated, these men and women encountered far more barriers to their participation and retention than most adult students. However, for this group, barriers posed by the educational institution they attended and by their socioeconomic circumstances had a much greater influence on their dropping out than dispositional barriers associated with a dislike for education or a lack of self-confidence.

Implications were offered for research, policy, and practice. Special attention was given to suggesting possible solutions for creating classroom environments and other program supports that might result in higher retention and program completion rates for this particular African American student group.


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