Research of Note for April 2006

Print More

America’s Youth at 18: School Enrollment and Employment Transitions Between Ages 17 and 18
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor
Available at  

Adding another few pieces to the school dropout puzzle, the Department of Labor has taken its first look at the year during which most youth are expected to graduate from high school and make the transition to adult pursuits.

Based on the seventh annual round of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 – which has been tracking 9,000 young men and women who were ages 12 to 17 in 1997 – this analysis looks at youth high school enrollment and completion, college enrollment, employment experience and military service over the course of the year (from October to October) that began when the youths were 17.

Among the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) findings: Six percent of white youth, 11 percent of black youth and 10 percent of Hispanic youth who were enrolled in high school at age 17 had dropped out by age 18. Those numbers – even when combined with the 10 percent of the group who had dropped out of high school before age 17 – are significantly lower than some other estimates, which say up to one-third of students entering high school eventually drop out.

When it comes to transitioning to adulthood, young women appear to fare better than young men on several academic measures.

The study found that teen girls were less likely than boys to drop out of high school (14 percent versus 17 percent), more likely to finish high school on time (67 percent to 55 percent) and more likely to enroll in college (41 percent versus 29 percent). Males were considerably more likely to still be in high school at age 18 (32 percent) than were females (24 percent).

Employment status at age 18 differed significantly between high school dropouts and graduates who were not enrolled in college. Nearly three-fourths of high school graduates were employed at age 18, compared with just over half of high school dropouts. One in 10 dropouts was unemployed (looking for work, but not working) and 37 percent were not in the labor force (neither working nor looking for work).

On a high note, although most youth who had dropped out of school before age 17 were still not enrolled in school one year later, 6 percent had re-enrolled in high school, 7 percent had obtained either a GED certificate or a high school diploma, and 2 percent had enrolled in college by the time they were 18.

“We plan to keep doing this for the next few years to develop trend data, but this is our first look,” said Allison Aughinbaugh, a research economist at the BLS. “Next we’ll look at the 18th to 19th year, [then] the 19th to 20th year, and follow that pattern until they’re in their early 20s.”


The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts
Civic Enterprises
Available at  

An interesting question arose when researchers John Bridgeland, John Dilulio Jr. and Karen Burke Morison of Civic Enterprises received funding from the Gates Foundation to study the factors fueling a national high school dropout rate, which by some estimates approaches 33 percent.

“We asked ourselves and the Gates Foundation, ‘Has anybody asked the kids?’” Morison says. “It seemed to us that one of the missing pieces was the voice of the youth. A lot of people seem to speak for them.”

So they asked. Using a survey created by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, the researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with 467 ethnically diverse 16- to 25-year-olds who had dropped out of public high schools in 25 locations throughout the country.

They got some interesting answers.

While real-world challenges (like teen pregnancy) and academic struggles (like being forced to repeat a grade) are often cited as leading reasons for dropping out, the respondents were more likely to mention other reasons first.

• Forty-seven percent said feelings of boredom and disengagement played a major role in their decisions to drop out.

• Forty-three percent said they had missed too many days of school and could not catch up with their work. Many described a process of gradual disengagement that including refusing to wake up, missing school, skipping classes and taking excessively long lunches.

• Thirty-eight percent said they had too much freedom and not enough rules – feelings that related to a lack of order and discipline in schools and classrooms, the failure of adults to track their grades and attendance, and policies that allowed them to leave the school grounds.

• Thirty-five percent said they were simply failing in school. Three in 10 said they could not keep up with the pace of their schoolwork, and many indicated that their previous schooling had not prepared them for high school.

“What was the most amazing thing to us is that the problems around [these issues] are solvable,” Morison said. “The conclusion we came to is that the vast majority of people who drop out can go on to graduate if they’re given the appropriate help.”

The researchers suggest that schools and communities offer different types of schools for different types of learners, individualize graduation plans, rigorously engage parents in their children’s education, develop early warning systems that track absenteeism, and ensure student access to supports, services and adult advocates. They also suggest compulsory school attendance until age 18 in all states and encourage more accurate collection of dropout data at both the state and federal levels.

When asked what they believed would improve students’ chances of staying in school, dropouts suggested solutions that mirrored those of the researchers: real-world learning that makes instruction more relevant; better teachers who keep classes interesting; smaller classes with more individualized instruction; better communication between parents and schools; parents making sure their kids go to school every day; and increased supervision at school.

Seventy-five percent of the young people expressed regrets about dropping out, and 70 percent said they could have completed high school, given better supports and higher expectations.

Nevertheless, 51 percent said they alone were responsible for not graduating, while only two in 10 placed blame solely on their schools.