We All Win when High Schoolers Drop Back In

The bad news: High-school dropouts earn $10,000 less per year than graduates, face a much higher unemployment rate, are more than twice as likely to live in poverty, are 63 times more likely than a college grad to be incarcerated, and will cost society an average of $292,000 in their lifetime.

The reasons why they drop out, according to a 2012 survey:

Absence of parental support or encouragement (23 percent)

Becoming a parent (21 percent)

Lacking the credits needed to graduate (17 percent)

Missing too many days of school (17 percent)

Failing classes (15 percent)                         

Uninteresting classes (15 percent)

Experiencing a mental illness, such as depression (15 percent)

Having to work to support by family (12 percent)

Was bullied and didn’t want to return (12 percent)

The good news: Progress is being made in efforts to help at-risk dropouts return to high school to complete their education, even after they have turned 18.

New data and technologies offer greater opportunity to find and reconnect out-of-school youths than ever before. Educators say emerging intervention models hold promise not just to build credits for an equivalent certificate, but to rebuild dropouts’ academic, social, and emotional foundations for success beyond high school. . . .

Boston is one of a network of cities, including Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Portland, Ore., that have established “re-engagement centers”—one-stop shops to help returning students find a new school or online classes; connect with social workers and therapists when needed; and plan for college and a career. . . .

Ultimately, Jobs For the Future’s Lili Allen believes dropout recovery will be judged not on whether students get a high school diploma, but on whether they are really prepared for life after graduation: college, careers, family, and a productive civic life.

“There’s a growing recognition,” she says, “that this population needs to not just make it over that first finish line but really needs to make it through postsecondary if they are going to sustain family-supporting careers.”

Policymakers are hoping to attach responsibility to school systems, tying in increased funding to how many of the returning dropouts eventually graduate.


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