High school educators have faced significant challenges within the past decade. The dropout crisis and graduation gaps continue to limit opportunities for high school non-completers, resulting in higher unemployment rates. As a result, our communities and economy suffer.

Though national reports show a significant improvement in graduation rates, there is still an opportunity gap that cannot be ignored. According to data released by the America's Promise, the upward trajectory of high school graduation rates over the past decade continued in 2013, as the national graduation rate hit a record high of 81.4 percent. Despite positive results, 14 states with graduation rates between 70 and 78 percent, still have much further to go.

In terms of opportunity gaps, though Hispanic/Latino and African-American students have made great strides, these subgroups still fall well below the national average of 81.4 percent, states Building a Grad Nation Executive Summary. The report also adds that many schools, districts and states will need to redouble their efforts to bring these students up to the current pace for Hispanic/ Latino and African-American students to reach the 90 percent goal by 2020.

Our nation's youth remain vulnerable, especially if ongoing support from educational leaders and institutions is lacking. Although more high school students are staying in school, the remaining nontraditional students who are at risk to dropout need alternatives.

The following three online solutions can help high schoolers stay on track to graduate:

Dropout Retrieval

The "one size fits all" approach to education can fail a diverse student body population. Not every student learns the same way or at the same pace. A blended academic environment designed to blend in-classroom learning and online coursework can provide the flexibility and engagement that a nontraditional student needs to succeed. The Penn Foster Dropout Retrieval Solution, a regionally and nationally accredited high school completion and blended learning program, helps students earn their diploma through an online  curriculum combined with classroom support and prepares them for success in the classroom and beyond.

In 2007, Polk County, Florida faced a dismaying 40 percent high school dropout rate. The school district implemented the program in the same year to remediate the high dropout rate and give students a second chance to earn their diploma. More than 700 Polk County students graduated from the program by summer 2014. And in May 2014, Polk County School District celebrated a graduating class of 214 high school students who received their diploma by completing the Fresh Start Dropout Retrieval Program utilizing the Penn Foster High School program.

Credit Recovery

A single course credit or one failed class can prevent a high school student from graduating. Credit recovery serves as a dropout prevention strategy and offers a second chance that helps students earn a lacking credit to graduate on time. Despite apprehensions such as lower academic standards and misaligned coursework, credit recovery can actually enhance the learning experience. The program administers lessons based on the individualized needs of the student. Then the student can complete the coursework following a tailored blended learning structure that can support the student most effectively.

Other benefits of credit recovery include:
  • Students are able to skip reviewing repetitious material they've already mastered to focus only on their most challenging subjects.
  • The blended environment promotes self-paced, independent learning to meet specific needs.
  • A program instructional team can create personalized academic plans, set expectations and chart student progress.
  • Students earn credit by gaining knowledge and competency measures, and not by the amount of time spent in a classroom seat.

Summer School

Online summer school can help students who need a more flexible schedule to earn their high school credits. For example, a virtual classroom led by a teacher can foster the same student engagement and collaboration of a traditional classroom. Also, since summer stands outside of the standard school year, (virtual) classroom sizes are typically smaller, which encourages more dynamic group discussions and one-on-one interactions. Other forms of summer school programs include online self-paced courses, which allow students to learn at their own schedule and reduces the pressures of strict due dates and tests. Blended learning models provide the best of both worlds by enabling students to take courses online as well as receive in-classroom guidance. Instructors can also use online summer school as an opportunity to reach out to students more meaningfully, serving as "support coaches" who guide and motivate.

The quality of online academics is only becoming more innovative as well. Online courses and lessons may include interactive Powerpoint presentations with audio and videos, social media, and even text messaging. By implementing online summer learning opportunities, you can help ease the academic pressures of the school year or even help students earn college credits to get a jump-start on their college career.

Recommended for You: Fresh Start and Penn Foster Graduate 289 Former High School Dropouts

Resources: (1) High School Graduation Facts: Ending the Dropout Crisis (2) U.S. high school dropout rate reaches record low, driven by Hispanics, blacks (3) Dropout Retrieval Solutions: Serve At-Risk Students in a New Way (4) 214 Former High School Dropouts Get A "Fresh Start" (5) Over 200 Dropouts and At-Risk Students from Polk County, Florida Graduate (6) The Truth About High School Credit Recovery (7) Earn High School Credits in Online Summer School (8) Online summer school: It's still school (9) Summer College Courses For Credit: Individual College Courses