It's simple to state—a high school diploma just isn't the number one priority for students who leave high school without graduating. But the cluster of factors for why students abandon their high school education are quite complex. In the "Don't Call Them Dropouts" study by America's Promise Alliance and Center for Promise, many non-graduating high school students actually want to stay in high school and don't necessarily lack motivation. Toxic living conditions—homelessness, absent parents, violent environments, family health traumas and abuse—overwhelm and prevent students from focusing on their education.
Neglected support and multiple events force students to drop out to cope with these immediate circumstances, illustrates the AmericasPromise.org.1,2 In this academic landscape, however, high school dropouts aren't without options to change their future. Students have proven they can return to school and complete their education after connecting with a supportive adult or re-engagement program. School professionals can show students what they can attain with a high school diploma by providing a long-term, success-oriented modus operandi that emphasizes how education is a major life-changer in the following ways.
Higher Earning Power & Employability
For many non-graduates, their role as the family provider takes precedence over going to class. It's an in-the-moment, money-making quick fix for struggling youth burdened with monumental responsibilities. Yet, if students can enroll in a tailored high school completion program supported by school professionals, they can set themselves up for better financial stability and job security for the long-term future.
According to The National Education Association, a high school graduate is estimated to earn $260,000 more than a high school dropout, and a high school dropout has a 72% higher chance to be unemployed. In order to earn a decent wage from most American jobs, a high school diploma is typically the minimum qualification and serves as a foundation for achieving higher postsecondary education.3 High school graduates can also expect a 49% increase in monthly income, which should appeal to a young person encumbered by economic strain.4 In fact, BusinessInsider.com spotlighted 17 high-paying jobs with an annual salary of at least $61,000—jobs only requiring a high school diploma. Transportation, storage and distribution managers earned the top spot with a median annual wage of $81,830 in 2012. Other jobs providing a stable income for high school graduates include detectives and criminal investigators, commercial pilots, power plant operators and gaming managers.5
Once a high schooler has overcome obstacles to earn a high school diploma, the graduate may feel empowered enough to take their education even further. However, considering the steep drops in student enrollment and swollen student loan debts, the question ensues, "is a college degree worth it?"
Continuing Education Opportunities
Despite concerns over the rising costs of college and high unemployment rates, the college investment continues to be one worth making. "It still pays to get a college degree," says a Forbes.com 2013 cover story headline.6 In support of this assertion, PewResearch on Social & Demographic Trends states, "young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education" on every measure of economic and personal well being, from annual earnings to job satisfaction. Economic disparity among young adults can't be ignored; a bachelor's degree (or more) equates to around $45,500 in annual earnings. A two-year degree (and some college) equates to an estimated $30,000, and a high school graduate earns on average $28,000. Higher education prepares young adults for a job and work, as well as provides education and training for a lifetime of potential career advancement.7 A college degree can also help alleviate poverty and improve long-term financial security.
Without a high school diploma, postsecondary education or a four-year college degree aren't feasible options, which is why sponsoring a high school completion program and supporting high school graduation awareness are so paramount for career colleges and universities. According to Penn Foster company data on “Increasing Enrollments and Revenue for Private For-Profit Schools,” 73% of high school graduates continue onto postsecondary education, which wouldn't be plausible without implementing solutions for the high school dropout crisis.4
Higher Quality of Life
Not only does graduating high school generate higher earning potential and more educational opportunities, the experience creates an unquantifiable higher quality of life. The goal of educators and school professionals is to help equip a young person with the academic background, mental capacity and emotional fortitude to live the life they aspire to have.
For example, dropping out of high school and re-engaging in an academic completion program displays resilience, reports GradNation.org1. The experience of completing high school and showcasing resiliency also produces influential character-building traits like persistence, self-awareness and optimism. A high school graduate feels accomplished and confident, and subsequently develops the self-esteem to excel in all areas of life. Excellence can range from ambitiously enrolling in a two-year college following high school graduation or joining the skilled labor force, to escaping poverty and a life of crime. Along with strengthened character, a high school graduate learns marketable life skills, such as decision making, deductive reasoning, and problem solving.
As high school graduate advocates, the community of academic professionals and the educational system can improve the life of our youth, the workforce, and entire economy by drawing awareness to the toxic circumstances affecting troubled young people and their educational pursuits. Listen to the authentic stories of struggling students and provide unconditional support. If supportive school professionals can develop and implement programs, remedial courses, and alternative learning solutions (blended learning models and college partnerships, for example) tailored to the needs and pace of a non-traditional learner, young people can take more control of creating the type of life they wish to have and find a road to success.
4 Ewert, Stephanie. "GED Recipients Have Lower Earnings, Are Less Likely to Enter College." Random Samplings. United States Census Bureau, 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.