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Can the Promise of College Save High School Dropouts?

August 06, 2009 06:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
A new program in Philadelphia aims to reengage high school dropouts in a college setting. Where are dropouts most prevalent and how is the issue being addressed?

Tables Turned: Dropouts Being Recruited

A program called the Gateway to College will allow Philadelphia high school dropouts to get a high school diploma while earning college credits. Partnered with the Community College of Philadelphia, the scholarship program covers college tuition, fees and books for a one-time admission fee of $20, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Requirements for the program are few, but students must be between 16 and 20 years old, "out of school one semester or more, and test on at least the eighth-grade reading level."

Background: Dropout rates of minorities in big cities

Big cities in the U.S. face an uphill climb in the fight to improve the high school dropout rate. Although Philadelphia's program is innovative, the city is up against troubling statistics.
According to the study Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap, conducted for Gen. Colin Powell's America's Promise Alliance, "the average graduation rate of the 50 largest cities is well below the national average of 71%, and there remains an 18 percentage point urban suburban gap."

Minority students bear the brunt of dropout disadvantages, an issue addressed in Turning the Tide, a video produced by America's Promise Alliance for its Dropout Prevention campaign. According to the video, the U.S. is only 18th in the world in school graduation rates, and one-third of all public high school students drop out, including one-half of all Hispanic and African American public school students.

Reactions: Why do students drop out?

The number one reason students drop out is that classes are not "interesting," Turning the Tide explains, but interviewed students gave a range of other factors that led to their decision. Some said if they'd felt more challenged, they might have stayed, while others pointed to the curriculum's frustrating lack of African American culture and history.

Similarly, a 2006 study discussed in Education Week found that most dropouts cited a lack of motivation. Many also said classes were not challenging enough, and "troubles outside of school" led to their academic problems. The study also suggested "[k]ey changes" that could have kept kids in school, such as "teachers who expected more of them, schools that helped them more when they struggled, and classes that were more engaging," Catherine Gewertz wrote for Education Week.

Opinion & Analysis: Why is graduating so important?

Powell and other prominent business owners and educators appear in the Turning the Tide video to discuss the significance of high school graduation, which has implications for the economy and national security. According to the video, "If minority students graduated at the same rate as white students, by 2020 they would add more than $310 billion a year to the U.S. economy."

Furthermore, the average income for an urban dropout is $14,000, compared with high school graduates' average income of $24,000, according to the America's Promise Alliance study. Additionally, the study found that "high school dropouts were also the only group of workers who saw income levels decline over the last 30 years."

Related Topic: What have other districts done to prevent dropouts?

In San Francisco, District Attorney Kamala Harris spearheaded a successful program aimed at lowering elementary school truancy. According to an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Habitual truants tend to become high school dropouts," who often become criminals or victims of crimes, studies show. The editorial also cites a study by the California Dropout Research Project, which found that if San Francisco could cut its dropout rate in half, the city could have "315 fewer murders and aggravated assaults per year."

In Connecticut, State Rep. Jason Bartlett, D-Bethel, wants to up the age at which students are allowed to drop out of high school. According to Eileen FitzGerald of The News-Times, in an article republished on the Connecticut House Democrats Web site, the Senate-bound bill would require students to be 18 years old to drop out starting July 1, 2010. In addition, the bill would mandate that districts "track students who leave school and attend adult education." Districts would also be required to make parents and students aware of "alternative education programs before dropping out," and students would be given 10 days from the day they withdraw from school to change their mind, FitzGerald reports.

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