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High School Dropouts – Part I
Why Students Drop Out & What’s the Impact on the Student


After putting so much time and effort into educating kids in your classroom, you never feel more defeated than when you watch a current or former student drop out of school. You know what a bad decision it is to leave school without a diploma and how much harder it is going to be for those students to succeed financially.   No amount of discussion, encouragement or persuasion from you seems to matter once they’ve made up their mind.  You feel powerless to stop it.

While the dropout rate has decreased steadily since 1960—from the highest rate of 27.2% to a much lower rate of 5.7% in 2018—any dropout is one too many from a teacher’s perspective.  Luckily, there are several key indicators that can identify which students are more likely to drop out so this knowledge can be used to give extra support to those students who need it most.

Racial background is one of the first key indicators around dropping out of school. Native Americans have the highest rate of school dropouts by racial group, followed by Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Black, White, and Asian in that order.

Gender is another key indicator that can help determine which students may be thinking about dropping out. While it doesn’t represent a huge difference in the dropout rate, boys drop out slightly more often than girls.

Socio-economic indicators also play a role in identifying higher risk students.   The lower the household income, the more likely they are to drop out.

Geography plays a role in school dropouts too.  The top 3 states with the highest rate of school dropouts are New Mexico with a rate of 10.33%, South Dakota with a rate of 8.13%, and Nevada with a rate of 7.9%.

So why do students drop out of school?

According to the National Dropout Prevention Center, some of the top reasons for dropping out are as follows:

  • The student missed too many school days
  • They thought it would be easier to get a GED
  • The student was getting poor grades or was failing
  • They do not like school
  • The student is dealing with a pregnancy
  • The student has to help support their family financially

Teachers have no control over many of these issues, so their hands are tied at being able to offer resolutions.  Understanding what struggles your students may be facing both in the classroom and at home does allow you to offer guidance and encourage them to complete their education.

Students who drop out of high school only have a 50-50 chance of being employed in a meaningful and continuous work environment.   Dropping out of school can also have a significant impact on job promotions or professional growth so these individuals often feel stuck in a dead end job.

Data  from 2018 and 2019 suggests that only 50.7% of high school dropouts were employed, 40.8% were never in the job market, and 8.5% were currently unemployed.  Students who drop out of school make an average of  $10,000 less per year than their peers with a high school diploma.

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