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High School Drop Out Rates

What is happening in our schools and homes for our youth to drop out of high school? High school dropouts are bluntly labeled as failures, who are ineligible for most jobs across America but what is being overlooked about this aspect is the impact these dropouts have on our society. I believe a few major causes of the population that leave high school are due to learned helplessness, life circumstances, student to teacher ratio, and lack of positive resources to help aid student’s growth in education.

It is my assumption that these factors are what lead high school students to drop out. Many teachers are familiar with the term at-risk student, which refers to students who are struggling with academic success. This term addresses that there are warning signs that a student is at high risk of dropping out of school which will in term affect the student, school, community, and our society as a whole alike. I cannot help to wonder what lies beneath these causes and who is acknowledging the difficulties these at-risk students face.

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I also believe the majority of society views high school dropouts as only affecting their personal future but in reality, these dropouts have a vast ripple effect that begins in our communities and reaches across our society. What factors are in play that cause students to drop out of high school and how does it actually impact our country? I think that many parents and students alike would agree that it is time to utilize any possible solutions to benefit the future if not only high school dropouts but all students preparing to enter the ‘real world’.

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To begin my study I interviewed Mrs. Amy Griggs who is a guidance counselor at Hartsville high school in Hartsville South Carolina. I began the interview by asking what are the warning signs that indicated a student as high risk. Mrs. Griggs informed me the most common indicators were truancy, poor attendance, poor grades, and behavioral issues. I followed up with asking if she believed there was an underlying cause that pushes these students to drop out, which she replied ‘lack of inadequate resources, such as family, income, medical, and psychological.’. I asked Mrs. Griggs how the students that drop out impact the school and she let me know that dropouts have a negative effect on graduation rates and school report card ratings in addition to a majority of these students become involved in criminal activity. All though this is a good start as to how and why high school dropouts affect our immediate community I would like to zoom out and see the bigger picture on how dropouts are affecting our country as a whole and what are the causes nationwide or do they vary between regions?

I turned to library resources to see what credible authors and studies have suggested about this arising problem. In the book Understanding Dropouts: Statistics, Strategies, and High-Stakes Testing, two specific studies in this book seemed significantly important to me the first was stating that although dropping out is a disengagement process researchers have found ways to organize these predictive factors into two basic categories their family and home circumstances and their schooling characteristics (Beatty pg.18). The second study is one that seems to have been less noticeable and harder to identify, researched by David Grissmer.

‘Some other factors that don’t make their way into national statistics but that could play a significant role for many young people. He pointed to studies of hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorder that indicate that while the percentage of all young people affected is small, roughly five percent, the percentage of high school dropouts affected is much larger—perhaps as much as forty percent. He noted that dyslexia, depression, and other cognitive or mental health problems can have significant effects on students’ capacity to learn and flourish in the school environment, but that these situations are often overlooked in statistical analysis.’ (Beatty pg.18).

This should be a key factor in research studies of high school dropouts but seems as though it slides through unnoticed.

David Grissmer’s observation also sheds light on a seemingly less noticeable population of the dropouts across America. These two studies show the importance of having the proper intellectual, emotional, and social skills necessary to take full advantage of our education system. Grissmer’s observation also addresses that student’s disabilities aren’t being recognized early on which cause them to go through a majority if not their entire school career with their needs not being met. This issue could cause students to suffer from low grades, have disciplinary problems and ultimately result in dropping out having to live out their lives without addressing their disability (Reglin pg.118). Mrs. Griggs also believes that inadequate resources such as financial, medical and family can play a major role in the performance and longevity of a high school student’s academic career. She also confirmed my concern of a previous study stating that due to loopholes in the No Child Left Behind Act schools are able to list dropouts as transfer students. She stated it is always mandatory to list a dropout as such when they decide to opt out of high school the schools involved in this practice simply haven’t been caught yet. These studies although very enlightening don’t seem to have enough adequate sources as there are so many aspects not being accounted to supply the accurate truth as a whole while taking in all factors.

In my research, the most common and dominant effect that has been observed was the huge financial loss for the country, state, and the community. Research shows that poor education leads to large public and social costs in the form of lower income, economic growth, reduced tax revenues, and higher costs of public services such as healthcare, criminal justice, and public assistance. Therefore we can view efforts to improve educational outcomes for at-risk students as public investments that will reap considerable benefits compared to the investment costs (Belfield pg.118). The population of students that are leaving school each year is steadily threatening our economic future which will increasingly require a more educated workforce (Rumberger pg.133). Studies show that if economic trends continue by the year 2020 there won’t be enough college graduates to fill the higher educational required positions and there will be more under educated workers than the economy can employ (Rumberger pg.134).

These social detriments of an inadequately educated population don’t just stop with economic despair. Studies show a direct relationship with an increased crime rate and a large majority of high school dropouts. This high rate of crime not only affects the victims involved it also affects the areas in which most of the population will choose to purchase a home in order to better protect themselves from crime. This also puts a financial strain on government agencies within our criminal justice system and tax dollars that fund these agencies. ‘One study estimated that increasing the high school graduation rate by 1 percent would reduce the total number of crimes by 94,310 and the total number of arrests by 11,750, generating $1.4 billion in savings from victim and incarceration costs.’ (Rumberger pg.135). Not only would this save money within our justice system, the increased yearly income of high school graduates being made would also generate an increased tax revenue and less strain on government services.

Another benefit of a higher graduation rate would be a lower cost of yearly welfare and less demand for other social services. Government welfare benefits are set up to serve low-income families with programs such as low-income housing, food stamps, and other tax-funded benefits. ‘For example, 45 percent of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and housing assistance went to high school dropouts, which is roughly double their representation in the population.’ (Rumberger pg.136). Also taking into consideration that high school dropouts are more likely to suffer from health issues and being of a low-income family this portion of the population will be eligible to file for government funded health care such as Medicaid. Dropouts are also less likely to vote and participate in political and civic duties (Rumberger pg.138). Society is clearly worse off when our citizens don’t partake in our democratic society and this predominantly affects those individuals of a lower-income (Rumberger pg.136). This creates a vicious recurring cycle by not participating in our democratic process it is more likely there will be bigger tax reductions for the wealthy population of our country and greater tax cuts for our government benefits for low-income families.

Taking these cause and effect situations into consideration most should want to focus on a solution for this epidemic. Exploring positive options that could flourish within our education system will not only help individual students it will have the same vast ripple effect throughout our schools, into our communities thus leading to immediate relief of our economic system. Finding the right solution to plug the holes in our education system would transform our society from coast to coast. All of the previous strains I have written about that high school dropouts add to our economic system would be relieved by a great measure. Communities would become safer and more opportunities will arise in better educated areas. There will be a greater participation rate within our democratic voting society which would refocus many other concerns that we have within our country. All we need to do in order to reap the benefits of this unending financial strain our country pays for in billions of tax dollars a year is invest into our education system.

I turned to my community to inquire about their view’s of the problem of high school dropouts here within Newberry, SC. All of my surveyors were married parents all of which lived here locally. 60% of these parents believed there was a problem within our community and only 50% believed schools were doing everything they could to prevent students from dropping out of high school. Most of these parents knew of extracurricular activities to involve their children in and most utilized those opportunities within the community. Although these parent’s seemed supportive of local schools, 100% had ideas that could be used to benefit students. Most parents believed having more afforadable programs, SAT prep, financial prep, and showing relevance of how school education corresponds with the ‘real world’ would benefit students and show them the importance and value of our education system.

The most intriguing ideas to me were those of utilizing STEAM programs which are a relatively new educational approach that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. This approach exercises the use of critical thinking and problem solving skills. These programs embrace collaboration, and working through the creative process. Using hands on techniques such as this particular program will broaden the spectrum to help students with various learning abilities grasp concepts. This type of learning will show the connection between learning in the classroom and being successful in the workforce which will most likely prevent the gradual disengagement process that at risk students develop.

Also the possibility of expanding tests such as the ASVAB test, which are Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, into our high schools could be beneficial. These multiple choice tests are issued to determine whether or not you have the mental aptitide to enlist as well as determine what jobs you qualify for within the military. I feel as though this test could be altered for the results to decipher if a student would do best in a college classroom or in a vocational training setting. These test show weaknesses and strengths and could be of great use to an up and coming graduate due to various learning abilities. Some students are much more likely to excel in certain areas of study be that of vocational training or a college education and both of these educations are extremely important to our society. Students are much more likely to stay engaged with a subject that they are likely to excel in. By expanding tests such as ASVAB into our classrooms schools could set achievable goals for students. By doing so I believe students would be more likely to pursue a successful career as well as achieve their goals.

Acknowledging the causes and effects that high school dropouts have on our country is the first step to reform our great nation to its fullest potential. In our society the citizens with an education will be the citizens that get the jobs, it’s that simple. Our society is unaware of the welding benefits of graduating. We should come together as a nation and put these factors under a spotlight for all to see. Investing into our education system will relieve a major financial strain on our country and restore our countries hopes and dreams. The stakes of our children’s future and our countries future are too high to ignore. The causes and effects of the dilemma of high school dropouts not only threatens our economy it threatens the idea that America is the land of opportunity for all. Many have recognized the issue and it is now time to work towards a solution. By investing into our education system our communities and country will reap benefits that are by far the price of the investment. Investing into our education system is investing into ourselves and creating a better life for our generation and generations to come.

Works Cited

  1. Beatty, Alexandra S. Understanding Dropouts : Statistics, Strategies, and High-Stakes Testing. National Academies Press, 2001. EBSCOhost.
  2. Belfield, Clive R., and Levin, Henry M., eds. The Price We Pay : Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education. New York, NY, US: Brookings Institution Press, 2008. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 29 March 2017.
  3. Griggs, Amy Professional Interview 30 March 2017
  4. Reglin, Gary L. Mentoring Students at Risk: An Underutilized Alternative Education Strategy for K-12 Teachers. Charles C Thomas, 1998. EBSCOhost.
  5. Rumberger, Russell W. Dropping out. Harvard University Press, 2011. EBSCOhost.

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High School Drop Out Rates. (2021, Apr 03). Retrieved from

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