Why Students Drop Out of High School

7 Reasons Why Kids Drop Out of School

(Image: CBS Miami)
(Image: CBS Miami)

It’s the middle of September, and by now the nation’s 14.9 million public high school students have returned to school. Unfortunately, according to America’s Promise Alliance, nearly 500,000 of them will drop out of high school this year without earning their diploma.

A new report, Don’t Quit on Me: What Young People Who Left School Say About the Power of Relationships, from the Center for Promise, the research institute of America’s Promise Alliance, examines how relationships and extended community can play a critical role in helping a student decide to stay in school.

[Related: High School Dropout Rate Hits Record Low for Blacks and Hispanics]

For many, it isn’t just the family that is fragmented, there is also little support from other caring adults, causing what the report calls “relationship poverty.” Supportive family members, peers, and caring adults inside and outside of school are critical to helping students persist toward a high school diploma, the report concludes.

In addition, it identifies seven adverse life experiences that are predictive of dropping out:

  1. Becoming a parent
  2. Being suspended or expelled even once
  3. Having several friends drop out
  4. Feeling academically unprepared for school
  5. Experiencing a significant mental health problem
  6. Homelessness, and moving to a new home.

Young people who dropped out endured twice as many of these adverse life experiences as students who stayed in school and graduated on time.

Relationships, though critical to a student’s ability to persist toward a diploma, differ in their importance by type, source, and intensity, the report states. “We found that relationships are powerful vehicles for growth, particularly for young people living in challenging conditions,” said John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, in a statement. “And yet, too many young people don’t have enough access to relationships with stable, caring adults who can help them get what they need to stay on track toward graduation. Relationship poverty is not a lack of love or family, but a lack of access to additional sources of support that can lead to a more promising future.”

The type of support provided matters. The report identifies four types of social support: emotional, informational, appraisal, and instrumental. Emotional support, as you would expect, means the provision of love and care; but instrumental support (providing transportation or babysitting) is also key. Ideally, students have all four types working in tandem in their quest to complete high school, but emotional and instrumental support are especially needed.

Although support buffers the effects of adversity on graduation, the report states, students who face five or more adverse life experiences need more than support to stay on the path toward graduation. Devastating circumstances like trauma or food or housing insecurity require more intensive resolution efforts to keep such young people focused on graduation.

Young people who have an anchor (one caring adult) and a web of support that can include a worship community, adults in the community, and teachers and other school staff have tremendous assets enabling them to complete high school. But the report is unambiguous: One caring adult is not enough. It really does take a village.

To help students graduate on time, take time to be a mentor, coach, or tutor. Listen to young people and offer what wisdom you have. Volunteer in your local high school, or find other ways to get involved.

To find out more, go to GradNation.org/DontQuit.