Dropping out of high school doesn’t only effect the individual. While students who drop out of high school will personally have less chances of employment, make lower incomes, and are most likely just a piece in the poverty cycle, they also represent a huge drain on our economic potential. On a larger scale, high school graduates and dropouts shape our economy, define the abilities of our workforce, and set the stage for our leaders of the future in business, industry, and government.
In the recent article “The True Cost of High School Dropouts,” Henry Levin and Cecilia Rouse share the following statistics:
- In 1970, the US had the world’s highest rate of high school and college graduation. Today, the US is No. 21 in high school completion and No. 15 in college completion.
- Seven of 10 ninth-graders earn high school diplomas.
- 80 percent of white and Asian students graduate from high school.
- 55 percent of blacks and Hispanics graduate from high school.
Even though “bridging the gap” has become a familiar phrase in education reform, the attention alone won’t solve anything: we need action. Decades of research strongly suggests that the most effective education reform starts when kids are in preschool, where they are fed and taught in small groups, get home visits by teachers and have meetings with parents, and have teachers who make higher salaries, according to the article.
These programs may sound expensive, but the costs of inaction are far greater, say Levin and Rouse. They break down the overall costs as such:
- Start with reducing the number of dropouts by half, that’s 700,000 more high school graduates a year.
- Each of these dropouts will likely have better chances of getting employed and make a 50-100 % increase in their lifetime income.
- These graduates are less likely to need public money for health care and welfare and less likely to be in the criminal justice system.
- Due to increased income, the graduate will contribute more in tax revenue over a lifetime.
- The cost of investment to produce a new graduate has a $1.45 to $3.55 return for every dollar of investment.
- In 11 years, 700,000 new graduates would yield close to $1 trillion.
Our future depends on not only more graduates, but more successful graduates who are ready to succeed in the world of work and their lives as a whole. Starting early, staying consistent, and holding the bar high as students progress will provide a society with the brain potential, talent, and follow through to negotiate and leverage the global challenges that lie ahead.