College of Education Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Social and Cultural Foundations in Education


College of Education, Department of Educational Policy Studies and Research

First Advisor

Amira Proweller, PhD


Students who leave high school before graduating run a high risk of becoming incarcerated, and adults with a record of incarceration and no high school diploma have difficulty maintaining legal employment and therefore remaining out of prison. For adults who lack high school diplomas, few options exist to earn that credential. Though standardized testing is still a point of controversy in education policy for juveniles, the GED exam is the assumed standard for adults in the United States to earn their high school credentials, and few alternatives exist for those who are ill-equipped to pass a demanding standardized test. This qualitative case study of two graduates of an alternative, non-test-based high school for formerly incarcerated adults in Chicago explores how the post-incarceration experiences and geographical locations of those graduates impact their lifestyle choices. The two research subjects interviewed are both formerly incarcerated adults who have beaten the odds of recidivism by remaining out of prison for more than three years and securing stable employment. Research was conducted via semistructured one-on-one interviews with the subjects over a period of 20 months. The study explores the effect of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory on low-income urban youth of color and the adults they eventually became. The study found that, while these students were negatively impacted by nested systems during their childhoods, some of the effect of these systems – poor schooling systems, lack of parental support and over-zealous policing – were ameliorated by an appropriate, supportive parole placement that emphasized education for the sake of personal transformation.

Included in

Education Commons