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Best Strategies for Contacting Hard-To-Reach Students

  • Rob Noroian
  • April 3, 2017

The common stereotype of high school dropouts as lazy, disengaged and disinterested in improving their lives couldn’t be further from the truth.

Our research suggests that 91 percent of individuals who have left school before graduation say they want to re-enroll. So why aren’t dropout recovery programs more effective at recruiting students? A large part of the problem is that many dropouts are not aware these programs exist, and many school districts are not well equipped to contact hard-to-reach students. Here are some of the best-practice strategies that we’ve honed at Graduation Alliance:


The first step in reaching a student who dropped out is to check the contact information on file in the school district offices. However, district offices do not always have accurate contact information for every student. We can help districts find these students. Sometimes, for instance, we discover that the student’s emergency contact forms contain information that is different from other district-collected data. We then aim to identify the correct primary address and phone number and, in so doing, locate the student.

Referral Systems

If there are no family members listed as contacts, friends of the student may be helpful in reaching out. This is most likely to happen when a referral system is in place. Effective peer-to-peer outreach rewards both the dropout and whomever referred him or her. Rewards should provide tangible and intangible incentives for joining the program. This may include a financial or material incentive or the opportunity to provide community service.

Local Community Organizations

It is an unfortunate fact that not every student has the type of family and network of friends that can serve as a support system in the aftermath of leaving school. Some districts have found that outreach through local community centers may be effective. Not only may these organizations come into direct contact with students, they are often also in spaces that students or their parents may frequent. Leave-behinds such as flyers with tear-off contact information can easily be seen and distributed throughout the community.

Outreach Amid Special Circumstances

For dropout students from highly mobile populations (such as migrant students or students in foster care), the identification and recruitment process can be particularly challenging and can require a great investment of time and effort. Outreach specialists and “on-the-ground” recruiters rely heavily on migrant agencies, local community organizations, and government agencies to reach these “special circumstance” students. In cases where a student dropout is incarcerated, has a history of juvenile offense, or has been in foster care, liaisons who work with local law enforcement and foster systems can be indispensable for locating students and determining educational options.