April 6th, 2010

The Alabama Select Commission on High School Graduation and Student Dropouts recently made recommendations to reduce our high school drop out rate, which currently stands at over 40 percent.   Those recommendations included:

  • tracking students at-risk for dropping out
  • creating a positive, pro-learning climate that reflects multiple learning styles
  • establishing recovery academies for dropouts who would like to complete their education
  • changing disciplinary measures to encourage positive behavior, not dropping out

Why does the drop out rate matter? Well, as the Montgomery Advertiser editorial board noted,

The fiscal cost of such a high dropout rate is staggering – billions of dollars in lost income potential over the lifetimes of dropouts, with corresponding losses in tax revenue. But more importantly the human cost is incalculable, a terrible toll in stunted human potential, in lives far less productive and satisfying than they might have been.

Larry Lee’s Daily Yonder Piece, “Two Counties and the Difference Education Makes,” has an interesting take on this issue, particularly its impact on rural Alabama.  As Larry points out, there is a chicken-and-egg conundrum: if rural students get a high school diploma, they are more likely to go off to college, move away and find a job elsewhere – a rural brain drain. Yet if students are undereducated, the county is less able to attract economic development. And what incentive do students have to pursue higher education if there are no jobs for them?

We frequently write about how Alabama’s low educational attainment hinders economic development, as shown in this Southern Education Foundation report “High School Dropouts: Alabama’s Number One Education and Economic Problem,” or this National Report Card on Higher Education, which states,

Alabama’s underperformance in educating its young population could limit the state’s access to a competitive workforce and weaken its economy over time…[these trends] undermine the state’s ability to compete successfully in a global economy.

Alabama needs jobs. And to attract employers, Alabama needs higher levels of college graduation. But first and foremost, we have to fix our high school dropout epidemic.

How can you help? The best way to make an impact – and something that many of us already do – is to mentor a child or young adult. Reach out to students in your community, your church, and your neighborhood. Provide encouragement and support. Mentoring doesn’t need to be formal, although you can connect with an at-risk child through programs such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Mentoring is a small thing that goes a long way towards helping our schools and our teachers support Alabama’s students.

For more insight into the high school dropout crisis nationwide and its economic impact, see this excellent post from Compassion in Politics. For more resources on mentoring, visit our resource page.

Posted by Robyn Hyden