High School Drop Out Rates

high school drop outs

Current research shows that high school drop out rates are not increasing. However, almost one third of students do not graduate from high school. In urban areas, the percentage of students that don't graduate is about 50%. While those percentages are shocking, many intervention programs have been successful at reducing the overall high school drop out rate. Yet more is needed to be done until the concept of dropping out is foreign.

High School Drop Out Statistics

There are many ways to look at the problem of dropping out of high school. While some choose to look at ethnicity and socio-economic status as an indicator for dropping out, others focus on peers, the overall drop out rates and how they have gotten worse or improved. Statistics can be useful in developing and targeting specific intervention for those teens who are most at risk for dropping out. Consider the following statistics reported from various educational agencies:

Dropping Out and the Economy

A serious drop out problem in our society does affect our economy and so whether or not you have a student at risk, drop out rates are everyone's problem. The Alliance for Excellent Education suggests that if just 50% of students who dropped out were to stay in school, the state would see robust dividends in their local economies. Take Alabama for example. The high school drop out rate in 2005 was 42%. If 21% of those individuals who dropped out were to stay in school or even go onto college, the state would see the following in increased revenues:

  • For each student who graduated, revenues are estimated to go up by some $94,838,688.
  • If those same kids continued and got a bachelor's degree, revenues are estimated to go up by $305, 591, 328.
  • What's more, drop outs are associated with welfare and crime:

It is estimated that high school drop outs cost a state some $24 billion, while lost revenue costs the state some $944 billion. (Thorenston, 2004)

  • Meanwhile, about 75% of state prison inmates never graduated high school, while 59% of federal prison inmates never finished high school. (Harlow, 2003)

The bottom line is that this is a problem that society simply cannot afford to ignore.

Programs That Are Improving High School Drop Out Rates

The good news is that there are quite a few programs out there that are working towards making high school drop outs a thing of the past. Thus far, the best solutions seek to look at the problem preventatively, as well as work with communities where students are at risk. While no one program can address the problem from every angle, several programs working together from different angles can be effective in getting more kids to graduate.

National Drop Out Prevention Centers

The National Drop Out Prevention Center is geared towards educating practitioners and policy makers on issues that face at risk students. Their focus is on researching why students drop out, who is mostly affected by the problem of dropping out and how to solve it.

America's Promise Alliance

America's Promise Alliance was started by former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. The organization focuses on bringing key 'promises' to children to help prevent dropping out. According to the organization, children who experience four to five of the key promises are significantly at less risk to drop out than those who experience none or one. The promises are:

  • Caring Adults--Programs focus on bringing mentors and working with families.
  • Safe Places--This promise addresses violence or providing opportunities for safe havens, such as after school programs, etc.
  • A Healthy Start--Focuses on initiatives to provide children with quality health care.
  • An Effective Education--Addresses and promotes initiatives to make schools more effective.
  • Opportunities to Help Others--Kids need to have a purpose and when given leadership opportunities, will often rise to the occasion.

The Silent Epidemic

The Silent Epidemic focuses on bringing resources to parents, teens and educators to help prevent and address the problem of drop outs.

Programs In Your State

Other programs address the issue on a more local level. While some districts have found mentoring programs to be very successful, other districts have found that finding alternatives for drop outs to graduate can also help address the community's needs. One thing is certain: dropping out of high school is a problem that affects the entire community and is worth the investment it would take to make sure that it doesn't truly become a bigger epidemic.


  • Harlow, C.W. (2003, January) Education and correctional populations. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report Washington, D.C. U.S. Department of Justice.
High School Drop Out Rates