Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Sue Poppink

Second Advisor

Dr. Patricia Reeves

Third Advisor

Dr. Tomoko Wakabayashi


Preschool choice, parent preschool choice, low-income preschool, role of attitudes and beliefs in choice


Since the 1960s preschool has been seen as a potential equalizer for children of poverty as they enter kindergarten and long term studies of state and federal preschools have documented positive impacts, especially for low-income students. What has yet to be deeply explored is guardians’ decision-making processes to explain the lack of enrollment even when the stated barriers are eliminated (Obi, 2011; Payne, 1994; Swartz, 1996).

The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe and interpret, through a phenomenological lens, how low income parents and guardians made decisions to enroll their child or dependent in a preschool program. I examined their decision-making processes by organizing the research questions around Ajzen’s theory of planned behavior (1991) which includes the notions of (a) behavioral beliefs, (b) normative beliefs, and (c) control beliefs and the role they play in intention to carry through on a behavior. The central research question was: What explains parents’ or guardians’ decision making process regarding enrolling their children in Head Start or Great Start Readiness Preschool?

This study took place in a mid-sized school district in Allegan County, Michigan. I interviewed a total of twelve guardians of current kindergarteners using a semi-structured interview guide. All participants had children that attended preschool the previous year (six were Head Start eligible and six were Great Start Readiness Preschool eligible).

The major findings of my study showed that parents/guardians who chose preschool for their child expressed positive feelings about education birth to school age and the desire for children to be successful. They supported early learning, and held positive perceptions of preschool and kindergarten. Parents/guardians made a conscious decision to enroll their children in preschool based on factors important to them regarding their child’s development such as perceived benefits of preschool, desired preschool elements, and logistics that made preschool feasible. Further, my study found that when parents/guardians made their decisions was based on an accepted norm. When preschool was a norm among peers and family parents/guardians made early decisions. Early education experiences influenced the next step. Preschool for younger siblings followed the older siblings’ path.

My findings affirmed and furthers the previous research on the role of positive attitudes, societal norms and control beliefs, (Ajzen, 1991; Grenny, Patterson, Maxfield, McMillan, & Switzler, 2013), as well as the literature that shows the early years present incredible opportunity to build a strong foundation as the brain rapidly develops during the first five years of life (Ackerman & Barnett, 2005; Robinson et al., 2017; Xiang & Schweinhart, 2002). My study adds to the literature that shows connected systems provide parents the support to access programs that would support children’s development (Chaudry, Morrissey, Weiland, & Yoshikawa, 2017; Obi, 2011; Payne, 1994). Areas for further research include longitudinal choice within families, non-preschool attenders, and early education choices.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access