Conventional thinking would suggest that students who drop out of high school don’t want to be in school. However, our research shows that 91 percent of students eligible for re-enrollment programs actually do have a desire to graduate.
So, what is preventing them from returning on their own? While every student has a unique set of circumstances for dropping out, most of those reasons fall under one of three categories of life challenges: academic performance, social/familial pressures and responsibilities, or mental/physical health.
A decline in academic performance is often a symptom of a larger issue and not the root cause of a student’s decision to drop out. When academic challenges are adequately addressed, however, and kept from becoming the proverbial last straw, dropout events can often be prevented or reversed, and students can remain in a traditional learning environment or successfully transition into an alternative graduation pathway.
“I didn’t have long to go, I just sucked at math… Honestly, I didn’t think I’d graduate. I thought I’d be in school forever. It was starting to feel like, ‘Oh my God, I’m never going to get this done,’”
– Aiden, Former Dropout / High School Graduate
In this situation, simply re-enrolling in the same school, or even a different one, can’t fix the problem. But academic failure does not preclude a desire to learn and graduate. The best way to rescue such students is to provide a customized learning plan designed to fit each student’s learning abilities, access to and comfort with technology, and expectations for graduation.
Social/Familial Pressures and Responsibilities
Often the reasons a student leaves school are less obvious—and more complicated—than academic performance. Students’ lives outside of school include other sets of responsibilities and pressures. It’s common, for instance, for students who are financially dependent on themselves or caring for a sibling or an ill relative, to become distracted from their schooling.
“I was making $2.17 an hour and all day I’d get maybe three or four tables. I’d come home from work with three or four dollars in tips in my pocket…That made going back to the high school really impossible for me. So, I was really glad when I learned there was another way.”
– Jessica, Former Dropout / High School Graduate
These conflicted students may not be able to afford the time it takes to participate in a normal school schedule, yet they may be amenable to a flexible program that accommodates their responsibilities and allows them to learn on nights and weekends. Affected students may also be interested in accelerated learning opportunities, which allow students to quickly accrue credits, shortening the time before graduation.
Sometimes even a studious and committed student can get sidelined and end up dropping out. Students plagued by physical injuries, chronic ailments, or mental health problems such as social anxiety and bipolar disorder, can miss days or months of school, causing them to fall behind to the point where it seems impossible to catch up.
“I wanted to go to school—I really did. But just thinking about being around other kids—I don’t know why—but I’d end up having a panic attack.”
– Lana, Former Dropout/High School Graduate
Enabling these students to create their own learning environment that is more conducive to their needs can bring them back into the fold of academic learning. Dropout recovery programs with flexible schedule and that specifically cater to individuals with mental or physical health issues can turn students who may once have been considered “lost causes” into successful graduates.