NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 24, 2008

Only half of the high school students in the nation's 50 largest cities are graduating in four years, and the longstanding American dropout problem may be especially thorny now, with a looming recession.  However, dropouts rates can be confusing since studies differ on what graduation actually means, says the Wall Street Journal.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, dropout rates have declined steadily from 14.6 percent (1972) to 9.3 percent (2006).  And 74 percent of the nation's students graduated on time.  But some studies show far fewer students completing high school with diplomas; about 7 in 10 students actually finish high school.

Nevertheless, there is a consensus that the dropout rate is worrisome, and officials outside of public education are becoming directly involved, specifically the U.S. Conference of Mayors, says the Journal:

  • In Houston, the mayor implemented the Reach Out to Dropout program that had volunteers going door to door to the homes of dropouts, encouraging them to return to school.
  • The Reach Out has recaptured more than 5,500 dropouts in the city since it started in 2004; this year, it spread to 17 schools districts in the state, and in September those districts convinced 541 students to return to school.
  • Atlanta's mayor meets on weekends with students and helps them with life planning, and cities like Milwaukee and Kansas City, Mo., have dropout prevention programs.
  • Officials in Detroit, which has the lowest 4 year graduation rate at 25 percent, are revamping high schools by offering better counseling services and designing curricula at schools in particular locations geared to industries in that area.

Many officials believe that cutting the number of dropouts could significantly improve our economic situation.  Cutting the number of dropouts in half would generate $45 billion annually in new tax revenue, says the Journal.

Source: Gary Fields, "The High School Dropout's Economic Ripple Effect," Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2008.

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