The Hamilton Project

Staying in School: A Proposal to Raise High School Graduation Rates

Abstract

High school dropouts fare substantially worse than their peers on a wide variety of long-term economic outcomes. On average, a dropout earns less money, is more likely to be in jail, is less healthy, is less likely to be married, and is unhappier than a high school graduate. But despite this growing education gap, dropout rates have remained mostly unchanged over the past three decades. This problem disproportionately affects low-income and minority students: among these populations, nearly half of all individuals do not graduate with their class. This paper presents a plan to increase the high school graduation rate. A key element of the proposal is for all states to increase their minimum school-leaving age to eighteen. In many studies, this intervention has been found to have a significant positive impact on several long-term outcomes. The proposal also calls for more resources for enforcement of new and existing compulsory-schooling laws, to maximize the impact of the policy change. More effort is also needed to keep students engaged in school, even at an early age. If states invest in effective support programs, they can further increase graduation rates and reduce future costs of enforcing compulsory-schooling policies. All of these interventions should be implemented with the goal of strengthening America’s primary education system to promote college attendance and improve career outcomes among America’s youth.

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