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Study Puts Pricetag on Dropout Problem in Major Cities

A rash of studies lately have attempted to quantify the economic toll of the high school dropout problem. The newest, issued today by the Alliance for Excellent Education, calculates what it costs the local economies in each of the country's largest metropolitan areas.

Other recent studies have come at the dropout issue from the perspective of what it costs the nation and the states (examples here and here), and what it costs the students themselves. (In April, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center examined the graduation rate in the nation's biggest cities.)

The alliance's latest research uses a model developed with an Idaho company that specializes in tools for socioeconomic analysis. Funded by State Farm Insurance, the model blends education and jobs data, combined with an examination of each metropolitan region's economy, to estimate the increased wages, education, and tax revenue that would be generated if the dropout rate were cut in half.

Nationwide, it finds that if half of the 599,755 students who dropped out of the class of 2008 had stayed in school to earn their diplomas, about two thirds would have gone on to receive some form of additional training or education. Those graduates would have brought in $4.1 billion in wages during an average year (which the alliance defines as being at about age 39), and generated $536 million in local property, sales, and income taxes during that average year, the study concluded.

The report includes one-page snapshots of how that formula would unfold in each of the 50 largest metropolitan areas. The numbers vary depending on each region's peculiarities. In a conference call with reporters, Bob Wise, the president of the alliance, noted that 84 percent of high school graduates in Honolulu go on to some kind of postsecondary education, compared with 47 percent in Memphis.

Regardless of whether you find fault with some of the presumptions underlying the study (technical notes here), it's interesting reading. Christopher B. Swanson, Editorial Projects in Education's graduation-rate guru, tells me there isn't much else out there that attempts to quantify the cost cities pay for the dropout problem.

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