Chapter 1
II. Demonstrating the benefits of high school completion

Students who graduate from high school are more likely to meet with success in college, career and life, becoming productive, engaged members of society. Conversely, dropping out of high school not only has a lifelong, devastating impact on a person’s future, but also negatively affects their community and our nation as a whole.

Increasing educational attainment benefits the individual

  • High school graduates are less likely than high school dropouts to be unemployed, live in poverty1, have poor health2 or have children who will also live in poverty3.
  • A high school graduate makes at least half a million dollars more in lifetime earnings than a dropout4 and is three times less likely to live in poverty5.
  • High school graduates are less likely to engage in criminal behavior. Dropouts are up to six times more likely than high school graduates to report ever having been arrested.6

    Graduating half of one class of dropouts would save U.S. taxpayers $45 billion in that year.

    Increasing educational attainment benefits the nation

    If we had met the national goal of 90 percent graduation rate in 2011, more than 580,000 additional students would have graduated. These graduates would have earned $6 billion more in income with a high school diploma than as dropouts. This would have created a ripple effect through the national economy, generating more than 37,000 new jobs and increasing the gross domestic product by $5.6 billion.

    Aggregated over a lifetime, a conservative valuation of the health losses associated with the nearly 600,000 18-year-olds who failed to graduate from high school in 2004 is $57.9 billion dollars.


    1. Meacham, Jon. (April 12, 2012). U.S. Education Reform and National Security: Report of a CFR-Sponsored Independent Task Force. Retrieved from http://www.cfr.org/education/us-education-reform-national-security-report-cfr-sponsored-independent-task-force/p27948

    2. Muennig, Peter. (October, 2000). Health Returns to Education Interventions Retrieved from devweb.tc.columbia.edu/manager/…/Files/81_Muennig_paper.ed.pdf 

    3. Rumberger, Russell W., (January 24, 2012). America cannot afford a stiff price of a dropout nation Retrieved from http://toped.svefoundation.org/2012/01/24/america-cannot-afford-the-stiff-price-of-a-dropout-nation

    4. Rumberger, Russell W., (January 24, 2012). America cannot afford a stiff price of a dropout nation. Retrieved from http://toped.svefoundation.org/2012/01/24/america-cannot-afford-the-stiff-price-of-a-dropout-nation/ 

    5. Mellville, Keith. (2006). The School Dropout Crisis. Retrieved from http://www.pew-partnership.org/pdf/dropout_overview.pdf).  

    6. Andrew Sum et al. (2009).

Increasing educational attainment benefits the taxpayer

Moving just one student from dropout to high school graduate would yield more than $200,000 in higher tax revenues and lower government expenditures over his or her lifetime. (( H.Levin et al.(2007) The Costs and Benefits of an Excellent Education for All of America’s Children. Retrieved from www.all4ed.org/files/HighCost.pdf 

Deeper Look

The Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education includes data that highlight the economic cost of the dropout epidemic in each of their 2013 State Challenge Indices, including annual earnings, annual state tax revenues and Gross State Product. http://new.every1graduates.org/building-a-grad-nation-state-profiles-and-annual-updates/

The Alliance for Excellent Education analyzed the economies of more than 220 metropolitan statistical areas (MSA), all 50 states, and the District of Columbia to determine the economic benefits the MSAs and states could realize by improving high school graduation rates: http://www.all4ed.org/publication_material/EconMSAcal

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT website to complete the fact sheet: offers valuable data on the conditions for young people across the country. http://datacenter.kidscount.org/

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