In 2009, 8.1 percent of American students ages 16-24 years old dropped out of high school. Their decision not only affected their own future, but also the future of our nation.
High school dropouts are statistically more likely to cycle in and out of the criminal justice system, obtain assistance from governmental welfare programs, and earn 50 to 100 percent less in lifetime income than high school graduates. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2011 statistics, on average, individuals who complete high school made about $37,000 per year, compared to an average of $11,600 made by those without a high school diploma. The difference between graduating high school and quitting is about $25,000 in annual income. The economic and social reverberations of students who drop out of high school are not only felt immediately by the student, but also by society – 10, 20 and 30 years down the line. These consequences place an increased financial and social strain on all Americans by causing their bottom line to shrink as the expectation to financially compensate for these workers increases.
The most recent acknowledgement of America’s dropout crisis occurred in President Obama’s State of the Union address. He discussed the problem by proposing that states require students to stay in high school until they graduate or dropout. This focus on the students’ eventual end, however, does not address their means. For many teens living in poverty, dropping out of school is their solution to more overwhelming factors: difficulties in school, failing grades, unexpected pregnancies, financial strains on the family, and sudden moves. Without recognizing the various factors that influence a teen’s decision to drop out and incorporating and implementing solutions to help them stay in school, we cannot begin to create lasting and significant improvements to this nation’s dropout rates.
A small investment in effective youth development programming for teens costs much less than the financial strain that is caused when struggling students quit. High school graduates earn higher wages throughout their lifetime and enjoy a more comfortable and secure lifestyle. For taxpayers, the outcomes are significant as well: graduates add more in tax revenue than dropouts and contribute billions to the nation’s economy over their lifetime.
Successfully decreasing America’s dropout rates begins with using evidence-based practices that target common issues that affect teens. Programs proven to increase high school completion, such as Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program®, provide measurable results in reducing teen dropouts and create cost-savings to taxpayers. In fact, in an external review of the program, the Brookings Institution found that for every $1 invested in Wyman’s TOP, $1.29 is returned back to the community. Continued—and increased—investment in preventative programs such as TOP® must remain a component of federal spending for the long-term health of our nation’s economy.