Posted by: Suzan | October 7, 2010

The Real Cost of High School Drop-outs

The other day while reading the Wall Street Journal at breakfast, I learned that 40% of high school students in the U.S. per year are dropping out. Half of the 40% of drop-outs are Latino or African-American students.

 I nearly spilled my coffee/almond milk concoction. How can this be so?  The article corroborated with what I’ve thought all along. High schools, for the most part, are no longer encouraging young people to go to vocational schools upon graduation. There is a laser focus for all youth to go to college, whether or not this is their preference. College is not for everyone. There must be alternative career plans in place to engage these students so they don’t lose interest and drop out of school.

 In the past high schools provided trade skills yet now the only emphasis is to ‘teach to the test’ so the graduates will be well-prepared for college. What about the students who want to be responsible citizens yet don’t care for the traditional routes? The cost of our educational system neglecting many students’ needs is enormous. Students who do not graduate from high school have difficulties finding work. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington D.C., drop outs from the year 2008 cost our nation $318 Billion in lost wages earned over their lifetime.

 Their studies further mentioned if we were to raise the graduation rate by only 5% in one year we could capture $8 Billion in lost revenues due to crime related costs. This is another huge component to examine. When high school students drop out of high school, where do they go? Without an education, or any solid employment skills, they often cannot locate work. Many turn to crime by joining gangs or by engaging in illegal means to make their money. It costs $47,000.00 per year of our tax monies to imprison one inmate per year in the state of California. This is aside from the emotional costs which we cannot measure, and the loss of contributions we will never realize from the ones locked away. The Wall Street Journal article stated that 70% of our prison population consists of high school drop outs. Get the connection? 

Our public school systems must find other avenues to retain students. They can encourage informational interviews, no matter the profession; and offer classes which support vocational occupations. They can take some of the emphasis away from ‘testing’ and instead provide an education which better prepares students to be on their own after graduation, whether or not they will be going to college. It is costing us far too much as a society to ‘look the other way.’


  1. This is such an important subject you wrote about. Thank you. There are so many wasted talents in young people simply by lack of information and motivating courses about vocational schools. Not everyone is meant to go to college. For years I have corresponded with a young Latino in TX who was a high school drop out. Leaving school, being too much in the streets with no real family support lead him into trouble and prison, as it is the case for too many youngsters. He then educated himself in prison, became the man he was meant to be. He could have been such a help for youngsters in his situation outside. Unfortunately he is no longer here. A broken, wasted life. Education is such a priority in every country.


    • Thank you Isa for your feedback and for sharing the story about the young man you did all you could do to support. It is indeed a travesty when we lose our young people to gangs, prison, and to death at a young age. Without an education to fall back on and/or some form of positive career path, it is far too easy for youth to be swayed by trouble. You may want to visit a site of a non-profit I used to work for. They are doing amazing work across our country in violence prevention.



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