New Study Uncovers Hidden Dropout Crisis
A new study shows that the nation’s high school dropout rate may be as high as 30 percent, almost three times higher than government estimates.
The study commissioned by The Business Roundtable (BRT) and conducted by the Center for Labor Market Studies (CLMS) at Northeastern University, revealed that 25 percent to 30 percent of students in America do not graduate with a high school diploma. The study also shows that males are 20 percent to 30 percent more likely to drop out of school than females, contributing to the increasing gender gap at colleges and universities. Dropout rates also vary greatly by location and racial or ethnic background.
Vermont, Connecticut, Nebraska, Minnesota and North Dakota are the five states with the highest graduation rates as a proportion of the 18-year-old population in those states. Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana are the five states with the lowest graduation states for that age.
The U.S. Department of Education puts the national dropout rate at 11 percent. The department’s dropout rate estimates are considerably lower than those uncovered in the CLMS study. According to the study, the methods used by the government to collect and analyze data on the dropout rate are substantially biased downward for the following reasons:
• The U.S. Department of Education has to rely on less accurate data sources to generate the national dropout rate because each year 14 or more states do not report their state dropout rates using common definitions and data collection standards.
• Individuals with a GED certificate are counted as high school graduates, though they did not receive a regular high school diploma.
• Students who become incarcerated are not counted, though many are dropouts.
• Poor and minority teens are not always counted in household surveys because they may have transient living conditions and/or employment status.
Failing to graduate from high school puts young adults on a path that is less likely to lead to success, according to Andrew Sum and Paul Harrington, the lead authors of the study.
“Individuals who do not obtain a high school diploma face bleak economic prospects over their entire working lives,” Sum said. “It is in the nation’s best interest to address this problem now, before it’s too late for many of our young people.”
Key findings of the study include:
• Annual estimates of new high school dropouts from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) are severely undercounted based on CLMS estimates. For example, the October 1998 CPS dropout estimate was 505,000 and the CLMS estimate, based on administrative data sources on dropouts from state departments of education and assertions from other data sources, is closer to 850,000.
• According to various government statistics, on average there are 120 to 130 male high school dropouts for every 100 female dropouts. However, the true ratio is likely to be even higher because males are more likely to be undercounted in surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau and are much more likely to be incarcerated than women.
• Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than Whites to drop out.
To view a copy of the entire report visit The Business Roundtable Web site at
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