Helping At-risk Youth-Adults Increase Opportunities, Personal Growth and Lifetime Earnings Through Education

The consequences of America's high school dropout epidemic impacts lives beyond the individual. It causes a ripple effect that permeates across the communities. Every 29 seconds, another student gives up on school, resulting in more than 1 million American dropouts a year-or 7,000 every day according to research by That's 7,000 youths at risk of poverty, crime and becoming single parents. In an economy where about 75% of jobs require at least a high school degree the consequence of remaining a "non-completer" influences a student's destiny in profound ways " and few of them are positive.2

It's never too late to help students regain traction, and the stakes are far too high for the individual and their community to not redouble efforts with actionable solutions that reflect the challenges and learning preferences of today's at-risk learner. This is particularly the case when over 35% of dropouts give up during their senior yearand are close to attaining this significant milestone. The good news is that the proper blend of strategies and tactics are now well understood, and if communities muster the conviction and alignment of the proper resources they can help a generation of citizens that acutely need the help. In the process, you literally change lives.  

Early intervention is the key to prevention, so it is important to understand early warning signs, ask questions, monitor known risk factors, and reconfigure local resources into purposeful solutions. When done well,  you can reconnect this group with the outlook of a promising future and tangible measures toward career and  financial success. As a result, you can help non-traditional youth and young adult learners finish their education, improve their lives and repair the future for the community.

The Problems, Warning Signs and Solutions:

There are three broad root cause issues of high school dropout rates that relate to managing complex life responsibilities, the needs of a non-traditional learner, and a lack of home and community support. All of these issues can be mitigated, powered by a portfolio of proven approaches that work best when executed in concert. 

Juggling Responsibilities

The problem: National data shows that students from low-income families are 2.4 times more likely to drop out of school than children from middle-income households,1 leading this group to consider school a waste of time when they can be making money instead.

Warning signs: Student got a job, has a family to support, has trouble managing both school and work, got married, got pregnant or became a parent.

Solutions: Debunk the myths with facts and options. Employed dropouts in a variety of studies reported working at unskilled jobs or at low-paying service occupations offering little opportunity for upward mobility.1 Help potential or current dropouts understand the income potential of gaining a diploma. Find out how they foresee the future in terms of a career - are they aware that a high school diploma amounts to an added lifetime earnings of $260,000?4 For many students, not working is not an option. When juggling the two becomes a challenge, schooling falls off the radar. Collaborate with private businesses in your community. As employers, they can help incentivize the student with possibilities of advancement post graduation. Partnering with workforce development experts can gain better insight to narrow down a student's education to gain the necessary knowledge to land a job in their desired field. Reconnect this group with an outlook of a promising future by showcasing tangible measures toward ongoing financial success.

Non-Traditional Learner

The problem: Students, especially troubled teens, are not molded for the one-size-fits-all approach to learning, engagement, and education. Varying skill sets and differing backgrounds translate into clashed learning experiences. For those less-engaged or challenged  students, a traditional learning environment can cause stress, anxiety, and lowered self-esteem.

Warning signs: Grade retention, poor academic performance, rebellious or apathetic about school in general.

Solutions: Consider implementing a blended learning program that allows the student to engage in a blend of classroom learning and online coursework. Taking them out of a traditional educational setting enables them to focus less on their challenges and hone their skills. This includes an adult accountability partner or coach to provide discipline and greater accountability. For those who have already dropped out, offering flexibility to complete their high school diploma at their own pace relieves pressures succeeding in standardized social settings.

Lack of Home Support

The problem: Brought up with lack of trust, confidence, and respect for authority, students become the stereotype. Uncertain in their capabilities, students often lack determination out of overwhelming despair.  

Warning signs: Parents and local community are not involved. Student expresses feelings that no adult cares. Doesn't get along with others (teachers/students). Displays disciplinary problems, was suspended, or expelled.

Solutions: The stigma of being a dropout keeps these students from coming back. Instill trust and rebuilding self-esteem with hands-on tactics that prove your commitment to their success. For example, a recent campaign by the Waterloo Community School District took it to the streets to encourage re-enrollment. Volunteers knocked on doors as part of their Reconnect to Graduate program resulting in 60 re-enrolled students.5 On average, most high school dropouts don't remain dropouts. Many re-enroll as adults and realize the benefits a diploma holds. Simply reaching out with personalized approach can make the difference between a lost student and a successful graduate.

The Path to Alternative Futures:

In the year 2014, a 21 year-old high school dropout in America is on a path to an almost certain set of chronic life challenges. This person is officially off the proverbial academic grid with no public entity "owning" their academic future and accountably. And along the way, yet another community has likely prematurely lost school funding tied to a lack of student academic progression, and the cycle continues.

The good news is that a better future can happen with the proper blend of more suitable educational alternatives that embrace - rather than punish - the complicated lives of students. The anchor tenet is that the local community needs to harness its resources to provide better platforms for at-risk students, and that families and friends must affirm this path of education as the route to a better life. The overused cliché that it takes a village to help grow a child into a self-sufficient adult has never been more true than as it relates to high school dropouts. The time has to together help galvanize local communities, industry and government, to help an at-risk generation anxious to build a life of prosperity and opportunity.

Resources: Photo credit. (1) (2)  Education and training outlook for occupations, 2012 - 22 (3) (4) (5)