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What Are the Disadvantages of Dropping Out of High School?

by Sandra L. Campbell

Finishing high school is a rite of passage for young adults. This achievement not only marks the beginning of adulthood, but also opens higher education and career opportunities for the aspiring graduate. Unfortunately, for students who leave school early, the disadvantages of dropping out of high school are many and can be life altering.

Income Loss

The most significant disadvantage high school dropouts face is lowered economic gains when compared to high school graduates. According to an article on the Education Testing Services website called “Dropping Out of High School: Prevalence, Risk Factors and Remediation Strategies,” a high school dropout will earn $375,000 less over his lifetime than an individual with a diploma. The Education Testing Services website also reports another grim statistic: Median earnings for families of high school dropouts were 30 percent lower in 2004 than in 1974. Additionally, most employers require a high school diploma credential in order to be considered for employment -- making it even more difficult for dropouts to earn an income. Also, drop outs may not have access to wealth producing assets such as retirement pensions which employers often offer as a benefit.

Lack of Access to Higher Education

Without a high school diploma, a person will have a difficult time gaining access to financial aid from colleges or trade schools. In fact, most universities and trade schools require students to have a diploma before they are accepted into a program. A student who lacks a high school diploma faces a huge hurdle because it's difficult to gain access to the advanced skills and training higher education offers, along with the accompanying increase in income, without one.

Reduced Tax Revenue

Due to the lowered income earnings of high school dropouts, society recoups less revenue in taxes. An article from the Wall Street Journal, “The High School Dropout's Economic Ripple Effect,” written in 2008, states that one-half of high school seniors in 50 of the largest cities in the United States are actually graduating in four years. The loss of revenue resulting from the lowered income of these students impacts many state and governmental services that the public depends on such as roads, libraries, schools and services for the poor and elderly. If the dropout rate improved, according to an article on America's Promise, "Alliance for Education: The Economic Benefits for Reducing High School Dropout Rates,” the country would benefit from an additional 45 billion in new revenue.

Poor Health Outcomes

Due to low income and job insecurity, high school dropouts face poorer health outcomes. Dropouts are less likely to receive job-based health insurance. Without access to health insurance, students who drop out may not receive crucial preventive health care which can lower the incidence of chronic diseases and increase life span. An article on ABC News, “Students Dropping Out of High School Reaches Epidemic Levels,” reports that a dropout's life span is nine years shorter than a high school graduate's.

Increased Likelihood of Legal Trouble

The increased likelihood of poverty, along with the decreased access to higher education and career opportunities makes high school dropouts susceptible to crime and possibly substance abuse. The Education Testing Service reports that each high school dropout who turns to drugs or crime costs the country between $1.7 million to 2.3 million over a person's lifetime. Additionally, according to the same article, 40 percent of all incarcerated 16 to 24-year-olds in the United States are high school drop outs.

About the Author

Sandra Campbell is a writer, actor and corporate language trainer. She has taught ESL courses for adults and children and was honored with language trainer of the year in 2006. Campbell self-published “A Practical Guide to Learning American English” in 2010. She also writes screenplays, articles and poetry and has performed in film and theater productions.

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