It’s been known for years that young people who do not earn a high school diploma face many more problems later in life than people who graduate. Dropouts are more likely to be unemployed, have poor health, live in poverty, be on public assistance, and be single parents.
National leaders have demanded that schools, communities, and families take major steps to retain students but the dropout rate remains high. Every 29 seconds, another student gives up on school, resulting in more than one million American dropouts a year – or 7,000 every day.
What defines a dropout?
Dropping out is defined as leaving school without a high school diploma or equivalent credential such as a General Educational Development (GED) certificate as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Characteristics of Students Who Drop Out
Socioeconomic Background. National data show that students from low-income families are 2.4 times more likely to drop out of school than are children from middle-income families, and 10.5 times more likely than students from high-income families.
Disabilities. Students with disabilities are also more likely to drop out. The National Transition Study estimates that as many as 36.4% of disabled youth drop out of school before completing a diploma or certificate.
Race-ethnicity. Hispanics and African Americans are at greater risk of dropping out than whites. Hispanics are twice as likely as African Americans to drop out. White and Asian American students are least likely to drop out.
Academic Factors. National research also indicates that academic factors are clearly related to dropping out. Students who receive poor grades, who repeat a grade, or who are over-age for their class are more likely to drop out.
Absenteeism. Students who have poor attendance for reasons other than illness are also more likely to drop out. Clearly, students who miss school fall behind their peers in the classroom. This, in turn, leads to low self-esteem and increases the likelihood that at-risk students will drop out of school.
Occupational Aspirations. Young people’s perceptions of the economic opportunities available to them also play a role in their decision to drop out or stay in school. Dropouts often have lower occupational aspirations than their peers.
Predictive Factors. The following individual-level factors are all strongly predictive of dropping out of high school:
- Grade retention (being held back to repeat a grade)
- Poor academic performance
- Moves location during high school
- High absenteeism
- High absenteeism
- The student’s feeling that no adult in the school cares about his or her welfare
Reasons young people give for dropping out:
- Didn't like school in general or the school they were attending
- Were failing, getting poor grades, or couldn't keep up with school work
- Didn't get along with teachers and/or students
- Had disciplinary problems, were suspended, or expelled
- Didn't feel safe in school
- Got a job, had a family to support, or had trouble managing both school and work
- Got married, got pregnant, or became a parent
- Had a drug or alcohol problem
Consequences of dropping out:
In recent years, advances in technology have fueled the demand for a highly skilled labor force, transforming a high school education into a minimum requirement for entry into the labor market.
Because high school completion has become a basic prerequisite for many entry-level jobs, as well as higher education, the economic consequences of leaving high school without a diploma are severe.
Earnings Potential. On average, dropouts are more likely to be unemployed than high school graduates and to earn less money when they eventually secure work. Employed dropouts in a variety of studies reported working at unskilled jobs or at low-paying service occupations offering little opportunity for upward mobility.
Dropping out, in turn, causes other secondary, indirect problems:
- Public Assistance. High school dropouts are also more likely to receive public assistance than high school graduates who do not go on to college. In fact, one national study noted that dropouts comprise nearly half of the heads of households on welfare.
- Single Parents. This increased reliance on public assistance is likely due, at least in part, to the fact that young women who drop out of school are more likely to have children at younger ages and more likely to be single parents than high school graduates.
- Prisons. The individual stresses and frustrations associated with dropping out have social implications as well: dropouts make up a disproportionate percentage of the nation’s prisons and death row inmates. One research study pointed out that 82% of America’s prisoners are high school dropouts.