High School Dropouts: The Stats and Possible Solutions

While recent high school dropout rates appear to be on the decline, the numbers are still too high to stomach, especially with all of the alternative options high school students now have to finish their diplomas outside traditional classroom settings. At this juncture in U.S. K-12 progress, the dropout rate should be barely worth mentioning.  So, what does the typical high school dropout look like, and how can we address the situation?

The Numbers

Since the government started tracking the dropout rates specifically for Hispanic students in 1972, this group has consistently had the highest percentages of students who fail to complete a high school diploma. In 1972, over one-third of all Hispanic students dropped out. Today that number is down to 13.6 percent, but the group still leads all races and ethnicities when it comes to young people out of school with no diploma or G.E.D. Black students dropped out at a rate of 29 percent in 1967 (the first year the group was tracked) and that number is down to 7 percent (the same as the national average) today. White students have always held on to the lowest percentage of the dropout pie chart, even when their numbers represented a larger majority of total student populations. In 1967, 15 percent of white students dropped out of high school; today, just 5 percent do.

When it comes to gender, there has not been much differentiation when it comes to percentages in over 40 years.  As far as economic backgrounds, lower-income students have always been at a high school graduation disadvantage. In 2009, students from families in low-income brackets ran a risk of dropping out that was five times higher than high-income peers. Still, the future is not completely bleak for kids from disadvantaged economic environments; in 1975, low-income students dropped out at a rate of 16 percent but that number now sits comfortably under 10 percent.

One unchanging factor when it comes to the dropout rate is socioeconomic background. Since the National Center for Education Statistics first started tracking different groups of high school students in the late 1960s, the socioeconomic status of each pupil has impacted the graduation rate. Students from low-income families are 2.4 times more likely to drop out than middle-income kids, and over 10 times more likely than high-income peers to drop out.

Household income is the not the only disadvantage many dropouts have, though. Students with learning or physical disabilities drop out at a rate of 36 percent. Overall, a student who does not fit the traditional classroom mold, or who falls behind for some reason, is more likely to lose motivation when it comes to high school and decide to give up altogether.

One thing is certain, a high school diploma is the first step to a better life.  Therefore, that should be a starting point for focus.

So what can be done to increase the percentage of high school graduates?

One solution is increased involvement from the business community.  There is money to be made and an economic boost is possible – but only if these students stick around long enough to obtain a high school diploma, and potentially seek out college opportunities. Georgia is a great example of a state that has taken advantage of the business community to help improve graduation rates. Areas like Atlanta Metro have some of the strongest business leaders in the nation, and school officials have begun to call on them for guidance and funding when it comes to improving graduation rates.

Further support outside the classroom would also go a long way toward improving drop out statistics.

Since risk factors for dropouts include coming from low-income or single-parent families and teachers simply cannot address emotional needs of every student–programs need to be in place for students who are at risk for dropping out. A pilot program in San Antonio called Communities in Schools has set out to accomplish this through offering on-campus counseling services for students on the fence about dropping out. Of the students in the program in the 2012 – 2013 school year, 97 percent obtained a high school diploma instead of dropping out.

Finally, earlier education for all would address the problem before these teens reach the proverbial crossroads.  In truth, the learning and social experiences they have from birth influence their attitudes about education, society and their own lives. Perhaps the dip in dropout rates in the past four decades hinges on another statistic: from 1980 to 2000, the number of four-year-old children in the U.S. enrolled in preschool programs rose from half to over two-thirds.  It’s time to stop making the high school dropout issue something that is confronted in the moment; prevention, as early as pre-K learning, is a long-term solution.

What do you think? What is the solution to the high school dropout crisis?

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