RESULTS: High School Dropouts

Dropping out of high school is associated with a variety of risks throughout adulthood. If adults without a high school diploma are fortunate enough to be employed full-time, their median weekly earnings are approximately 71% that of individuals whose highest education is a high school diploma; this translates into a median yearly earning difference of more than $9,000. High school drop outs are at risk not only in the short-term after they leave high school but over the course of their lives, they are severely disadvantaged compared to students who complete high school. Dropouts are more likely to be poor – dropouts have higher rates of unemployment, work fewer hours when they are employed, and have lower earnings than high school graduates. As a result of lower employment and income, high school dropouts pay fewer taxes to support public spending, with some studies estimating that dropouts pay one-half to two-thirds of the taxes paid by high school graduates. As we discussed in the risk section of this report, mothers’ education is a significant risk factor for children’s school success. Continuing to decrease high school dropout rates should improve children’s school readiness skills.

Evidence shows that high quality early care and education programs can reduce high school dropout rates and the need for interventions in later years. Further, economists and education researchers alike typically recommend including high quality early childhood intervention programs in state and local services aimed at eliminating high school dropouts.

In Virginia, the majority of students leave high school with a diploma, and graduation rates have steadily increased since 2008 (the first year Virginia was able to calculate the percentage of students who entered 9th grade and graduated on time within 4 years). Nonetheless, thousands of students drop out each year, and the percentage of students dropping out varies widely in Virginia’s communities and across populations. Students from economically struggling families and minorities have higher dropout rates than their more advantaged and white peers.

Number and Percentage of High School Dropouts, Virginia, 2008-2015

SOURCE: Virginia Department of Education. Graduation year is based on incoming students earning a diploma in four years or less.

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