The Cost of Living in a ‘Dropout Nation’

US network PBS filmed a story for their Frontline series entitled ‘Dropout Nation‘. It looked at the impact of rising school dropouts. They revealed the following findings:


The average dropout can expect to earn an annual income of $20,241, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (PDF). That’s a full $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate, and $36,424 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree.


Of course, simply finding a job is also much more of a challenge for dropouts. While the national unemployment rate stood at 8.1 percent in August, joblessness among those without a high school degree measured 12 percent. Among college graduates, it was 4.1 percent.


The challenges hardly end there, particularly among young dropouts. Among those between the ages of 18 and 24, dropouts were more than twice as likely as college graduates to live in poverty according to the Department of Education. Dropouts experienced a poverty rate of 30.8 percent, while those with at least a bachelor’s degree had a poverty rate of 13.5 percent.


Among dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24, incarceration rates were a whopping 63 times higher than among college graduates, according to a study (PDF) by researchers at Northeastern University. To be sure, there is no direct link between prison and the decision to leave high school early. Rather, the data is further evidence that dropouts are exposed to many of the same socioeconomic forces that are often gateways to crime.


The same study (PDF) found that as a result — when compared to the typical high school graduate — a dropout will end up costing taxpayers an average of $292,000 over a lifetime due to the price tag associated with incarceration and other factors such as how much less they pay in taxes.

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4 Responses to “The Cost of Living in a ‘Dropout Nation’”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    My son dropped out of school in grade 12, with my blessing. I could see he was not going to succeed. There was nothing at school that met his needs. He enrolled in a TAFE course and gained a certificate in basic engineering. In fact he blitzed it. Starting the course after it had been running for 2 months, he completed it before the end of the year so he took out a few extra modules.

    He was taken on by General Motors-Holden as an apprentice boilermaker. Completing his 4 year apprenticeship he did additional studies resulting in his becoming Holden’s highest paid boilermaker. He then began teaching his trade in a TAFE college in the evenings. This led to his gaining full time employment as a teacher at Victoria University TAFE division.

    When I was a student at high school, one could leave school at 15, and get a job. Today’s students hang on at school wasting everybody’s time if they don’t want to be there. One of the most sensible developments in education in recent times has been the growth of VET in high schools. My son is now exploring the possibility of working in a high school as a VET teacher.

    My point in all this is that on the whole schools are being run as a precursor for university. Not all our students are university material. By grade 9 they have learned all the academic material they want and to force them to continue is to invite misbehaviour, truancy and other forms of disengagement. After grade 8 there ought to be a lot more practical, hands on, learning experiences for students. I even encounter grade 11 and 12 students who are disengaged because even in subjects that lend themselves to hands on learning experiences they are forced to sit through hours of academic material. For example, agriculture students who have never picked up a shovel or planted a crop or tended an animal! Biology students who have never conducted an experiment on plant growth, never looked into a microscope. Woodwork students who sit through hours of textbook study without having made so much as a teapot stand. I could go on. Oh, wait they do have access to computers. I have seen them sit in front of their government supplied laptops and play computer games, access Facebook and Twitter and send each other emails, instead of looking for material to complete an assignment. They would be better off in a job.

    What do other people think?

    • Michael G. Says:

      I think TAFE is a smart option. I wouldn’t call your son a dropout by any means. How is my first degree (an Arts degree) any more important than a TAFE diploma? In fact, my Arts degree is far less important and far less useful too.

  2. Sonya Ramirez Says:

  3. John Tapscott Says:

    I was not using dropout in the pejorative sense that most academically inclined people use it. In my son’s case I believe dropping out saved his sanity (and mine) and set him up for a worthwhile career. The point I wish to make is that we run school as a preparation for University. In other words the education system is geared for the benefit of the 10% of students who end up in University. The rest may be treated as “also rans”.

    My son dropped out at a time when my wife was away attending a family wedding. She comes from an academically inclined family and would have carried on a treat, had she been home at the time, and our son may have acquiesced and stayed in school for the sake of peace, but would have been desperately unhappy. Fortunately there was no divorce and my wife didn’t take long until she realised the wisdom of the direction our son had chosen.

    My heart goes out to all the grade 11 and 12 students I have met who are at school but neither wish to be there, nor expect to progress to tertiary education. They are there, basically because there are no jobs and, believe me, they are desperately unhappy. This is why I think schools need to do a lot more in the line of vocational training, and that TAFE colleges need greater support instead of the reductions in funding.

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