Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Aaron Thompson

Department Affiliation

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Second Advisor

James S. Rinehart

Department Affiliation

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies


There has been a wealth of research conducted on the national epidemic of high school dropouts spanning several decades. It is estimated that the class of 2009 cost the nation $335 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetimes (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2009). The citizenry of the country suffers not only because of the loss in revenue but also as a result of the education level of the population. Individuals who choose to drop out of high school are not prepared for the most basic minimum wage jobs available, much less well paying jobs that sustain livelihoods. This study seeks to determine if variables exist that contribute to students making the choice to graduate or drop out of high school in Lyttle County, Kentucky (name changed to protect the identity of the county). The research utilized a mixed methods research design. After demographic data was collected on a cohort of students, interviews were conducted with leaders, educators, and students. Thompson's (2008) four elements of student success states that family, community, school, and students must work together to contribute to the success of students. By looking through the lens of each element and Bandura's (1993) achievement theory, based on data collected from the student, educator, and leader population in Lyttle County, the researcher drew conclusions and offered recommendations for future endeavors and research to assist in finding solutions to the dropout epidemic that plagues this county, the region, and the nation.

As a result of the findings of this study, recommendations concerning curriculum development, mapping, and tracking were suggested based on the number of students who move, many of which do so several times throughout their lives. In addition, the practice of grade retention should be reviewed with leaders and educators reviewing policies that lead to retaining students. Research shows that grade retention has a negative effect and often results in students dropping out of school. Leadership at the school and district level should attempt to bring parents into the educational process. Data from the study demonstrated that parental involvement is lacking within the district. Research shows that the involvement of parents in a student's education can be a major factor in whether students succeed academically or not.

In conclusion, findings from this study suggest that students in this rural Appalachian region of the nation face many obstacles in pursuit of a high school diploma. They include poverty, high rates of mobility, a lack of parental involvement, practice of grade retention by the district, and a lack of role models. Although leaders and educators within the district show interest and concern in the educational success of their students, their statements and actions are often not reinforced in the home environment. Schools, leaders, and educators are often expected to contribute to the basic needs of students that are not available at home. Students often witness generations of family members who have not earned a high school diploma and sustain themselves through government assistance. School officials try to combat the image of education not being important that this portrays on a daily basis but many feel it is a losing battle. Often students are expected to be the decision maker when it comes to their education because their family members do not feel they are qualified to assist them in this process.