Staying in School: A Proposal for Raising High-School Graduation Rates


Released: January 2013 • Discussion Paper

Related Topics: Education


  • Derek MessacarPh.D. Candidate, Department of Economics, University of Toronto
  • Philip OreopoulosProfessor of Economics and Public Policy, University of Toronto

From the Winter issue of Issues in Science and Technology:

High-school dropouts fare substantially worse than their peers on a wide variety of long-term outcomes. On average, a dropout earns less money, is more likely to be in jail, is less healthy, is less likely to be married, and is unhappier than a high school graduate. Yet dropout rates in the United States have remained mostly unchanged, at roughly 30%, during the past three decades. This problem  is proportionately affects low-income and minority students. Nearly half of these individuals do not graduate with their class.

A growing body of research, however, suggests ways to improve high-school graduation rates and close the achievement gap. A key element is for all states to increase their minimum school-leaving age to 18. Many studies have found that this intervention significantly improves several long term outcomes. More effort is also needed to keep students engaged in school, even at an early age. If states invest in effective support programs, they can further increase graduation rates and reduce future costs of enforcing compulsory-schooling policies. All of these interventions should be implemented with the goal of strengthening the nation’s primary education system to promote college attendance and improve career outcomes among youth.

Downloads & Links

Hamilton Project Updates

A periodic newsletter of events, policy briefs, and working papers from The Hamilton Project.