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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

Increasing Rates of School Completion
Moving From Policy and Research to Practice

A Manual for Policymakers, Administrators, and Educators

Preventing Dropout: A Critical and Immediate National Goal

National Statistics on Dropout and School Completion

Today, nearly all students are expected to graduate from high school with a diploma. Yet hundreds of thousands of students in the United States leave school early each year without successfully completing school (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).

  • The percentage of 8th grade students who graduate five years later range from a low of 55% in Florida to a high of 87% in New Jersey (Greene, 2002).
  • Approximately one in eight children in the United States never graduates from high school (Children’s Defense Fund, 2001).
  • Based on calculations per school day (180 days of seven hours each), one high school student drops out every nine seconds (Children’s Defense Fund, 2001).

Some groups of students are at greater risk of dropping out of school.

  • The rate of school completion is lower for students of Hispanic descent as compared to other young adults (64% of Hispanic youth vs. 84% of Black youth vs. 92% of White youth ages 18-24 who completed school) (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).
  • On average, students from low socio-economic backgrounds are at increased risk of not completing school (rate of dropout is 10% for low income vs. 5.2% for middle income vs. 1.6% for high income) (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).
  • According to the 23rd Report to Congress, only 57% of youth with disabilities graduated with regular diplomas during the 1999-2000 school year (U.S. Department of Education, 2001).

Youth who drop out are more likely to experience negative outcomes such as unemployment, underemployment, or incarceration.

  • High school dropouts are 72% more likely to be unemployed as compared to high school graduates (U.S. Department of Labor, 2003).
  • Nearly 80% of individuals in prison do not have a high school diploma (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995).
  • According to the National Longitudinal Transition Study of special education students, the arrest rates of youth with disabilities who dropped out were significantly higher than those who had graduated (Wagner et al., 1991).

Additionally, the costs associated with the incidence of dropout for society are immense.

  • Approximately 47% of high school dropouts are employed, compared to 64% of high school graduates not in college (National Center for Education Statistics, 1995).
  • Students who graduate from high school earn an average of $9,245 more money per year than students who do not complete school (Employment Policy Foundation, 2001).

Recent legislation has focused national attention on increasing the rate of school completion. The No Child Left Behind Act holds schools accountable for student progress using indicators of adequate yearly progress including measures of academic performance and rates of school completion.

Pressure is mounting to develop educational programs that engage students in school and learning, ensure acquisition of academic and social skills necessary for adulthood, and result in high rates of school completion.

Table of Contents

Cover Page

Introduction & Getting Started

Part I: What Do We Know About Dropout Prevention?

Part II: How Were Sample Intervention Programs Selected?

  • The Need for Examples of Effective Interventions
  • Search Process & Initial Criteria
  • Raising the Bar
  • Final Parameters for Selection
  • Abstracts: Coding & Definitions

Part III: What Works in Dropout Prevention?

Part IV: Where Else Can I Go for More Information?

  • Related Resources & Organizations
  • Journal Articles & Related Publications
  • Web Sites Providing Data on Dropout Rates

Appendix: Reproducible Handouts on Dropout Prevention


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Citation: Lehr, C. A., Johnson, D. R., Bremer, C. D., Cosio, A., & Thompson, M. (2004). Essential tools: Increasing rates of school completion: Moving from policy and research to practice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.

Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 2025 East River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55414, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.