Helping High School Dropouts Improve their Prospects

Print More

Dan Bloom, Ron Haskins – The Future of Children


Between 3.5 million and 6 million Americans 16 to 24 years old have dropped out of school, according to various experts. This report compares the life outcomes of adults who dropped out of school versus those who pursued professional degrees. The report also proposes a system of enhancing existing dropout prevention programs that could reverse the current trend.

The difference over 45 years of a career between a dropout’s earnings and those of someone with just a high school degree amounts to over $700,000, the report notes. It also points out that dropouts have  higher rates of pregnancies, divorce and unemployment and are more likely to end up in jail.

Eleven dropout-serving programs focused on either employment or education are highlighted in the report, alongside the findings of rigorous evaluations each underwent over recent years.  The results of these evaluations reveal the minimal, and in some cases adverse, outcomes on some of the programs’ participants, revealing the lack of effectiveness in existing efforts to assist high school dropouts. For example, after a seven-year evaluation of the National Job Training Partnership Act, which provides job training for disadvantaged youth, “no earnings impacts” were found among participants, and there were “possible negative impacts” for some subgroups.

While a few programs, such as the Ohio Learning, Earning and Parenting Program showed increases in earnings and GED receipt, the researchers say that overall the unpromising results of other programs, in addition to the “enormous” effects of dropout behavior on the criminal justice and welfare systems,  necessitate reform. They propose improving second-chance programs for out-of-school youth saying the argument for investing additional funds in the initiative is “strong, even during a period where public resources will be severely constrained.” They also suggest enhancing dropout prevention programs to begin as early as preschool.

Free. 8 pages.