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High School Dropouts: More than Loss of Money

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It seems that every time the issue of high school dropouts is discussed it all centers around money. U.S. Census Statistics tell us that 38 percent of high school dropouts fall below the poverty line, compared with 18 percent of total households in every demographic. Only around 60 percent of dropouts own vehicles and they spend over $300 less on entertainment annually than average Americans. It's clear that a high school diploma is in fact the ticket to higher earnings, at least on a collective level.

I wonder, however, if our cultural obsession with the financial implications of dropping out of high school sends the wrong message to teenagers. Earning a proper living is certainly valuable but what about all the other great reasons to finish the K-12 academic course, and potentially college-level learning following it? Money is not everything and is certainly only one piece of the value of a high school diploma. Some other areas of focus when it comes to the pitfalls of dropping out of high school should include:

Value of a career versus a job. Over 68 percent of high school graduates begin college coursework the following fall. Students who earn high school diplomas are that much more inspired to continue their academic journey and seek out a lifelong career match, not just clock hours at a "job" until retirement. The fulfillment people receive from a job they enjoy should not be underestimated. Studies have found that happier people are healthier and are even able to better fight off common illnesses like colds and the flu. Considering more time is spent working than in any other pursuit, job satisfaction plays a major role in overall happiness. The value of careers go beyond individual satisfaction, however. As a nation, everyone benefits from well-educated workers who earn a living in areas where they possess natural talent too.

Social strength. The childhood years go by so quickly and high school represents the last stage before adulthood. The social opportunities that high school provides are not duplicated anywhere else, with the exception of a college setting and high school dropouts miss out on both. What's more, high school dropouts tend to get into more trouble than their in-school peers. The National Dropout Prevention Center reports that 82 percent of U.S. prisoners are high school dropouts. The life lessons found in the later years of high school are more valuable than they get credit for and the peer-level socialization is a vital part of late-childhood development.

Learning for its own sake. In our material society, it is difficult to explain the intangible value of things like intellectualism, particularly to young people. Until greater value is placed on obtaining knowledge for no other reason than to broaden individual and societal wisdom, students will continue to drop out of high school. After all, how can the economic importance of a high school diploma really be explained to children who have never had to earn their own living? Even those in dire socio-economic conditions do not have a grounded concept of what money means in quality of life and long-term happiness.

The negative financial ramifications of dropping out of high school cannot be denied but the way they are over-emphasized seems like a worn-out tactic to me. To really reach today's students and encourage them to finish at least a high school education, they should be valued as learners and not simply earners.

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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