6 Reasons Why You Should Care About High School Dropout Rates

The good news is that high school dropout rates are at an all-time low. The national average is 7 percent.

However, there are too many people who slip through the cracks, especially when you consider all the alternate options for finishing school that are available in this day and age. The dropout rate should be negligible.

Having too many high school dropouts is costly. Here are reasons why we should focus on reducing them even further:

  1. The dropout rates cost individuals a lot of money. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that dropouts bring in just $20,241 annually, which is $10,000 less than high school graduates and over $36,000 less than a person holding a bachelor’s degree. The poverty rate for dropouts is over twice as high as college grads, and the unemployment rate for dropouts is generally 4 percentage points higher than the national average. In the end, the lifetime earnings of high school dropouts are $260,000 LESS than peers who earn a diploma.
  2. The dropout rates cost our society a lot of money. The financial ramifications of dropping out of high school hurt more than the individual. It’s estimated that half of all Americans on public assistance are dropouts. If all of the dropouts from the class of 2011 had earned diplomas, the nation would benefit from an estimated $154 billion in income over their working lifetimes. Potentially feeding that number is the fact that young women who give up on high school are nine times more likely to be, or become, young single mothers. A study out of Northeastern University found that high school dropouts cost taxpayers $292,000 over the course of their lives.
  3. The rates are linked with heightened criminal activity and incarceration rates. It’s not just about the money though. Over 80 percent of the incarcerated population is high school dropouts – making this an issue that truly impacts every member of the community. Numbers are higher for dropouts of color; 22 percent of people jailed in the U.S. are black males who are high school dropouts. As a society, we are not just paying into public assistance programs for dropouts, but we are paying to protect ourselves against them through incarceration.

I wonder what these numbers would look like if we took the nearly $300K that taxpayers put in over the course of a dropout’s lifetime and deposited it into their K-12 learning upfront. If we invested that money, or even half of it, into efforts to enhance the learning experience and programs to prevent dropping out, what would that do to dropout, poverty and incarceration rates? Right now the process seems to be reactionary. What would it look like if more preventative actions were put in place?

  1. Those who don’t stay in school are not likely to value a career path over a job. Over 68 percent of high school graduates begin college coursework the following fall. Students who earn high school diplomas are that much more inspired to continue their academic journey and seek out a lifelong career match, not just clock hours at a “job” until retirement. The fulfillment people receive from a job they enjoy should not be underestimated. Studies have found that happier people are healthier and are even able to better fight off common illnesses like colds and the flu. Considering more time is spent working than in any other pursuit, job satisfaction plays a major role in overall happiness. The value of careers go beyond individual satisfaction, however. As a nation, everyone benefits from well-educated workers who earn a living in areas where they possess natural talent too.
  2. Staying in high school allows students to have valuable experiences. The childhood years go by so quickly and high school represents the last stage before adulthood. The social opportunities that high school provides are not duplicated anywhere else, with the exception of a college setting and high school dropouts miss out on both. What’s more, high school dropouts tend to get into more trouble than their in-school peers. The National Dropout Prevention Center reports that 82 percent of U.S. prisoners are high school dropouts. The life lessons found in the later years of high school are more valuable than they get credit for and the peer-level socialization is a vital part of late-childhood development.
  3. To help us value learning for its own sake. In our material society, it is difficult to explain the intangible value of things like intellectualism, particularly to young people. Until greater value is placed on obtaining knowledge for no other reason than to broaden individual and societal wisdom, students will continue to drop out of high school. After all, how can the economic importance of a high school diploma really be explained to children who have never had to earn their own living? Even those in dire socio-economic conditions do not have a grounded concept of what money means in quality of life and long-term happiness.

What’s interesting about high school dropout rates is how far the consequences can reach. It’s not just about someone not finishing school, nor is it even about that individual not making as much money as they could. It has economic and social ramifications for all of society.

Can you think of other reasons we should look for ways to increase high school graduation rates?

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