Special Report
Budget & Finance

Costs of Not Graduating Tallied by Researchers

June 19, 2006 2 min read

Young people who fail to earn a high school diploma do so at enormous cost to themselves and to society, according to data presented at a 2005 conference at Teachers College, Columbia University, on the social costs of an inadequate education:

• Over a lifetime, an 18-year-old who does not complete high school earns about $260,000 less than an individual with a high school diploma, and contributes about $60,000 less in federal and state income taxes. The combined income and tax losses aggregated over one cohort of 18-year-olds who do not complete high school is about $192 billion, or 1.6 percent of the gross domestic product. (Cecilia Elena Rouse, economist, Princeton University)

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• Individuals with a high school diploma live longer, have better indicators of general health, and are less likely to use publicly financed health-insurance programs than high school dropouts. If the 600,000 18-year-olds who failed to graduate in 2004 had advanced one grade, it would save about $2.3 billion in publicly financed medical care, aggregated over a lifetime. (Peter Muennig, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University)

• Adults who lack a high school diploma are at greater risk of being on public assistance. If all those receiving assistance who are high school dropouts instead had a high school diploma, the result would be a total cost savings for federal welfare spending, food stamps, and public housing of $7.9 billion to $10.8 billion a year. (Jane Waldfogel et al., Columbia University School of Social Work)

• In the 2004 election, college graduates were nearly three times as likely to vote as Americans without a high school diploma. (Jane Junn, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University)

• High school dropouts are far more likely to commit crimes and be incarcerated than those with more education. A 1 percent increase in the high school completion rate of men ages 20 to 60 would save the United States as much as $1.4 billion a year in reduced costs from crime incurred by victims and society at large. (Enrico Moretti, economist, University of California, Berkeley)

Read more information about the symposium, as well as copies of the papers.

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