The High School Dropout Dilemma

By Tithi Mehta for Write & Co

According to Do Something, in the US alone, more than 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year. This growing problem is a large factor impacting literacy rates, considering the fact that some high schoolers report that they are “compelled” to dropout. High schoolers drop out for a number of reasons, including:

Poverty​: Many teenagers drop out of high school simply because their families cannot afford to allow them to continue going to school. Approximately 30% of high school dropouts aged 16-18 work jobs, according to the Urban Institute. These families depend on their children’s income to keep them above the federal poverty line. In fact, according to the organization Do Something, high schoolers from low income families are 2.4 times more likely to drop out from high school. These high schoolers must choose between supporting their families or receiving education.

Community Influence:​ The lack of positive influences in disadvantaged communities negatively influences many teenagers to drop out. Many communities lack proper resources to foster a child’s development, such as playgrounds, parks, and after school programs, according to the American Psychological Association. Additionally, communities with high drop out rates do not actively encourage graduation. Instead, many students lose motivation to focus on academics and eventually drop out. According to a recent study conducted at Civil Enterprises, 47 percent of high school dropouts are simply just bored of school.

Lack of Engagement​: Many schools fail to emphasize the importantconnection between school and work. As a result, students are not properly engaged with the material and lack the motivation to learn. According to a study conducted by the High School Survey of Student Engagement, over half of drop outs lift boredom as their top reason.

Teenage Pregnancy:​ Since many areas lack proper access to contraceptives or abortion centers, teenage girls are forced to carry out their pregnancy. The physical and emotional difficulties lead many to drop out of high school. A study by Child Trends revealed that on 53% of teenage moms get their high school degree. Though the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows teen pregnancy has decreased in recent years, we must continue to address this issue. Additionally, teenage girls are still in essence children and are not well-equipped to raise a child. So, their children are 50 percent less likely to graduate high school, as shown by the National Conference of State Legislatures. This not only negatively affects the teenage moms, but also continues to vicious cycle of high school dropouts.

Mental Illness:​ Teenagers often do not reach for help or fail to effectively receive proper mental health treatment, resulting in deteriorating mental health. In fact, students are twice as likely to drop out of high school due to depression, according to the organization Mental Health First Aid. Depression can cause students to become disengaged with learning, and also result in lower grades. These factors make it difficult for one to graduate high school.

Decreasing high school dropout rates not only significantly helps these individuals but also improves the economy as a whole.

Public Spending:​ High school graduates make significantly more money than dropouts. So, the government can spend less on public assistance programs since they can support themselves. According to an August 2007 report by the California Drop-out Research Project, high school graduates are 68 percent less likely to rely on government assistance programs since they make, on average, 290,000 dollars more in a lifetime compared to high school dropouts. Not only does the high school diploma benefit the graduates, but also the economic budget as a whole. A study conducted by Northeastern University proved that high school dropouts cost taxpayers $292,000 over the course of their lifetime. This brings in less overall money for the government and and additional economic burdens.. Additionally, unemployment rates among high school dropouts is 4 percent higher than their counterparts. High unemployment rates reduce the efficiency of the U.S. economy.

Crime​: On average, high school dropouts are more likely to find themselves in jail. An overwhelming amount of the U.S. prison population is made up of high school dropouts, according to the Advocate-over 80 percent. Not only is this bad for overall crime rates, but an increasing prison population would also cost taxpayers even more money just to pay for incarceration.

It is important not to blame the drop-outs, but rather find solutions to help them. As a society, possible ways to decrease the dropout rate include:

Academic Engagement:​ Schools should implement systems to be able to check on students with deteriorating academic performance. The National Dropout Prevention Center identified early academic engagement as an effective strategy to reduce dropout rates. Classrooms must provide active engagement with students starting from kindergarten to keep them interested in education. This requires communities to offer collective support to make the classroom a safe, healthy environment and improving the overall infrastructure of the schools.

Adequate Sex Education:​ The best way to prevent teenage pregnancy is to educate adolescents on safe sex and how to access contraceptives. Researchers believe that the historic low in teenage pregnancy and abortion rates is due to increase contraceptive use. The Guttmacher Institute indicates that the teenage birth rate decrease 44 percent since 1991 and the abortion rate declined 66 percent since 1988. Furthermore, the Guttmacher Institute also concluded in 2007 that the decline in teenage pregnancy was due to improved contraceptive methods by 86 percent. Thus, continued improvements in sex education will allow the teenage pregnancy rate to continue to decrease, so less adolescent girls have to drop out.

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