The Winter issue of Issues in Science and Technology highlights a Hamilton Project discussion paper in which Philip Oreopoulos and Derek Messacar of the University of Toronto present a strategy for reducing the dropout rate that would raise the compulsory schooling age to 18, and also combines stricter and better-enforced school-attendance laws with programs that have been statistically proven to prevent disengagement among at-risk students.
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.