Although high school dropouts have been studied in-depth, there is a lack of information pertaining to individuals who dropout and re-enroll. In addition, there is no research on individuals that re-enroll through an independent study high school to attain a high school diploma. This study intended to answer 3 research questions: (a) what factors led high school dropouts to return to high school, (b) what factors led re-engaged youth to stay in school and graduate, and (c) what does an independent study provide re-engaged youths?

This qualitative study utilized the interpretative phenomenological research design. This study was conducted with the self-efficacy theoretical framework as the foundation in the data analysis to understand the participants' experiences, as previous research proposes that an individual's self-efficacy influences academic motivation and the willingness to overcome obstacles. This study collected data from 2 independent study charter high schools in Southern California. 14 participants participated in this study with 11 participants coming from 1 high school and 3 from the other. The primary sources of data for this study included a Generalized Self-Efficacy questionnaire and a semi-structured interview protocol.

Three significant findings emerged from the analysis of the participants' responses. First, understanding the value of a high school diploma motivated the participants to return to school and earn a high school diploma. Second, a strong and positive support system is essential in motivating and encouraging an individual to overcome challenges. Third, the school's environment, from the school's schedule to the school's atmosphere, the support a student receives, and school activities, are critical in in engaging students in their learning. The findings from this study can be utilized to when developing school policies or practices. Based on the results, students would benefit from educators that collaborate with the students in developing plans with clear, achievable goals for high school graduation and beyond. Students would benefit from a mentoring program as positive relationships with at least one caring adult are crucial in providing students someone who can support them as they face challenges. Finally, a school environment that is welcoming, inclusive, and engaging for all its students matters.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

High school dropouts -- California, Southern; High school enrollment -- California, Southern; Diplomas -- Education (Secondary); Independent study -- Education (Secondary) -- California, Southern

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Reyna García Ramos