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. Not only does this achievement mark the beginning of adulthood, but it also opens higher education and career opportunities for the 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 with high school graduates. According to an article on the Education Testing Service 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. Additionally, most employers require a high school diploma credential to be considered for employment — making it even more difficult for dropouts to earn an income. In 2015, the percentage of unemployed high school dropouts was eight, compared to 5.4 percent for high school graduates. Also, dropouts may not have access to wealth-producing assets such as retirement pensions that 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. While 2014-2015 numbers showed that a record 83 percent of high school students had graduated in four years, that leaves 17 percent who'll graduate late or not at all. 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. Turning a potential dropout into a graduate benefits taxpayers to the tune of $127,000 over that student's lifetime. To reduce the rate of dropouts significantly would mean billions more in collected tax 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 that can lower the incidence of chronic diseases and increase lifespan. A 2012 study of life expectancy for individuals who've attained different level of education showed that white male dropouts live 12.9 less years on average and white women 10.4 less years on average than their more educated counterparts.

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. An astonishing 80 percent of incarcerated individuals did not complete high school. And as of 2013, 31 percent of high school dropouts used drugs compared to 18 percent of high school graduates. Because many of those dropouts don't have health insurance and may be sentenced to prison at some point, the costs of treatment fall to the taxpayer.

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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.