Study Finds High Rate of Imprisonment Among Drop Outs

A new study from Northeastern University cites that students who quit high school are 3.5 times more likely to become incarcerated in their lifetimes than high school graduates. The research also estimates a national cost of $292,000 per drop out, based on lost tax revenues and government assisted amenities and programs.The director of the report, Andrew Sum, told New York Times reporter, Sam Dillon:

“We’re trying to show what it means to be a dropout in the 21st century United States,” said Sum. “It’s one of the country’s costliest problems. The unemployment, the incarceration rates — it’s scary.”

Among African-American males who drop out of high school–which is estimated at 40 percent–the situation is worse. Of those, 72 percent are jobless, and the likelihood of being incarcerated jumps to 60 percent, according to statistics from Ronald B. Mincy, professor of social work at Columbia University and editor of “Black Males Left Behind” (Urban Institute Press, 2006).

One obvious question is why do students drop out? While it’s often assumed that students do so because they can’t keep up with the academic load, recent studies paint a different picture. For example, in a joint project by the Civic Enterprises and Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,”The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts,” the study found:

Nearly half of the former students – 47 percent – quit not because of the academic challenge, but because they found classes uninteresting. “These young people reported being bored and disengaged from high school,” the report said. “Almost as many (42 percent) spent time with people who were not interested in school. These were among the top reasons selected by those with high GPAs and by those who said they were motivated to work hard.”

An even larger number of students – 69 percent – said they were not motivated or inspired to work hard. In fact, two-thirds said they would have worked harder had it been required of them.

These findings underscore why schools must challenge students and prepare them for the different transitions they face. Freshmen year, in particular, is a precarious time in student’s academic future because students typically drop out the summer between their freshmen and sophomore years. If we don’t engage them at this entry point, we may lose them for the rest of their lives at great cost to the student and to society.

1) As educators, how can we provide a more supportive academic environment at school and at home that would improve students’ chances of remaining in school? What needs to be different—with students, parents, teachers, counselors and administrators—for that to happen?

2) How can we continuously challenge teachers so that they are always learning, growing and contributing to their own passion-level? If a teacher isn’t motivated, students aren’t likely to be either.

3) How can we help students discover their gifts and talents so that they can envision the crucial role that education plays in their future? When students know what they are good at, research shows they will persevere.

4) What can we do to increase awareness of the value of student success and transition programs in fostering engagement and relevance in the classroom? How can we start these classes in fifth grade so that we avoid these costly patterns from the get-go?

New York Times
by Sam Dillon

On any given day, about one in every 10 young male high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention, compared with one in 35 young male high school graduates, according to a new study of the effects of dropping out of school in an America where demand for low-skill workers is plunging.

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