College & Workforce Readiness

Why High School Students Drop Out and Efforts to Re-Engage

By Caralee J. Adams — November 14, 2012 2 min read
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Parenthood—either being a parent or missing out on parental support—is the leading reason cited by dropouts for leaving school, according to a new survey.

The 2012 High School Dropouts in America survey was released today by Harris/Decima, a division of Harris Interactive, on behalf of Everest College, a part of the for-profit Corinthian College Inc.

The poll was commissioned to help policymakers and educators understand why students drop out of high school and find effective ways to re-engage them in the hope of improving graduation rates.

The survey asked 513 adults, ages 19 to 35: “Which, if any, of the following reasons prevented you from finishing high school?” Here are the responses:

  1. Absence of parental support or encouragement (23 percent)
  2. Becoming a parent (21 percent)
  3. Lacking the credits needed to graduate (17 percent)
  4. Missing too many days of school (17 percent)
  5. Failing classes (15 percent)
  6. Uninteresting classes (15 percent)
  7. Experiencing a mental illness, such as depression (15 percent)
  8. Having to work to support by family (12 percent)
  9. Was bullied and didn’t want to return (12 percent)

In the survey, conducted online in October, 55 percent of the dropouts looked into, but had not started the process of getting their high school equivalency or GED. The likelihood of doing so is higher for those who are married (67 percent). The reasons for not getting a GED: “not having enough time” (34 percent) and “it costs too much” (26 percent).

One-third of high school dropouts say they are employed either full time, part time, or are self‐employed. Another 38 percent of the men and 26 percent of the women were unemployed.

Attracting young adults who have dropped out back for more education is a challenge.

Often students don’t want to return to the same school they left and are looking for flexible options. One approach that is showing promise is the Boston Public Re-Engagement Center. There, students can retake up to two courses they previously failed; try online credit recovery, or attend night school or summer school. Coming into the program, out-of-school youths are connected with an adult to discuss goals, finances, and enrollment options.

Lessons learned from the Boston model are included in a policy brief, “Forgotten Youth: Re-Engaging Students Through Dropout Recovery,” released Tuesday by the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy.

Dropout rates in Boston have been reduced by more than one-third in the last five years, Boston schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said in a statement put out by the Rennie Center. “This is more than 3,000 students who are still in school because of this work. As this research makes clear, it is equally important that we offer students whose education was interrupted a clear and accessible path to return to school, earn a diploma, and succeed in life,” she said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.