Recently, President Obama had this to say: "This is a problem we cannot afford to accept and we cannot afford to ignore. The stakes are too high -- for our children, for our economy, and for our country."
Was he talking about defense or national security? No. Was he talking about global economic recovery? No. Instead, he was highlighting the silent epidemic that is our national high school drop-out rate.
The sobering fact remains that three out of every 10 students in U.S. public schools still fail to finish high school with a diploma. That amounts to more than 1.2 million students lost from the graduation ceremonies every year, or about 7,000 students lost every day. And it gets worse for minorities. Just 55 percent of Latino, 51 percent of African-American, and 50 percent of Native American students finish high school with a diploma.
Why do teens drop out? Many teens leave high school not because they can't handle the school work, but because they lack a personal connection to the school and feel disengaged or need to support their family by working. In fact, a 2009 survey released by Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) and the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens (TBFT) shows that 32% of teens say getting a job to support themselves or their family is the biggest obstacle they face in graduating from high school.
Unfortunately, what these teens lose by dropping out is enormous earning potential for the rest of their lives. Dropouts earn $9,200 less per year than high school graduates and more than $1 million less over a lifetime than college graduates. Reducing the dropout rate makes sense for individual students, but it also makes strong economic sense for the nation. For example, a study by the Alliance for Excellent Education finds that cutting the dropout rate in half for just one high school class in the nation's fifty largest cities would result annually in $4.1 billion in additional earnings, 30,000 additional jobs, and $5.3 billion in economic growth. That's an economic stimulus package that everyone should be able to get behind.
We are beginning to see more interest in this subject from politicians, local communities and businesses. Slowly, people are coming around to the fact that we need to address this crisis or fall behind as a society.
So what should our goals be?
Simply put, we should try to cut the dropout rate in half by 2018. It is a bold goal but the benefits to America are enormous. The government would reap $45 billion in extra tax revenues and reduced costs in public health, crime, and welfare payments if the number of high school dropouts among 20-year olds in the U.S. today, which numbers more than 700,000 individuals, were cut in half. Further, we must expose our teenagers to real world experiences. Research shows that 80% of dropouts would have stayed in school had they been exposed to more real-world learning.
Your voice and involvement matter, with your kids and in your community. Advocate for their education and engage in their learning. We cannot afford to ignore this monumental problem here at home; our future depends on our children and must not let them down.