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The True Cost of High School Dropouts

  • Rob Noroian
  • March 6, 2017

President John Adams once said “Facts are stubborn things.” And when it comes to the stats surrounding high school dropouts and the financial and social ramifications they have on our country, the facts are most certainly stubborn.

Several studies provide staggering statistics to describe the devastating impact the current dropout rate can have both for the student who drops out and for American society as a whole. Let’s take a closer look.

3.3 Million Dropouts in One Year

In 2014, 6.5% of our nation’s high school population of 50,468,456 students dropped out or failed to graduate. $292,000 Per Dropout Per Year.

Half of Americans on public assistance are dropouts. A study out of Northeastern University found that each high school dropout costs taxpayers $292,000 through the course of their lives. Feel free to do the math here, but according to my calculations that equals nearly $957 BILLION a year.

$260,000 Lost Earnings

Lifetime earnings of high school dropouts are $260,000 LESS than peers who earn a diploma. Dropouts on average bring in $20,241 annually ($10,000 less than high school grads and over $36,000 less than those with a bachelor’s degree). Less income means less taxes paid.

4% Higher Unemployment

The unemployment rate for dropouts is generally 4 percent higher than the national average.

While the most obvious cost of failing to complete high school is based on how income levels impact the national economy in a myriad of ways, low socio-economic status is also closely linked with a variety of negative social outcomes. For example:

Over 80 Percent of Nation’s Incarcerated are Dropouts — costing taxpayers an estimated $38.7 BILLION per year.

Dropouts are more likely to rely on social programs such as welfare throughout their lives and public health insurance spending is more for high school dropouts than for high school graduates.

Those are the stubborn facts. But it’s real people who bring the numbers to life.

It’s Rashad,the promising athlete who was pursued by Ole Miss for a football scholarship but a lack of focus in his education led him to drop out of high school. It’s Gabby who left high school when she was pregnant. It’s Gary who had to take care of his ailing grandparents and young cousins which left no time for him to attend school.

And it’s countless others. Unfortunately because minority and low-income students are significantly more likely to drop out of school, the costs fall unevenly across groups and ultimately affect issues such as education gaps.

Let’s Drop the Drop-out Numbers

Working together, we have the power to help solve the problem. While the numbers can seem overwhelming, it’s possible to change them. One by one, students can get back to class and back on track. Graduation Alliance offers programs to prevent dropping out and enhance learning experiences. We can work with you to figure out the challenges facing you and your students. It’s our responsibility to step up to bring the numbers down. Together we can help Rashad, Gabby, Gary and every other student who needs a second chance. Together we can chip away at the high cost of living life without a diploma.