America / Culture / Education

Do it for the diploma

In President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address, he called on “every state to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”[1] This is not a new suggestion. The New York Times reports that “21 states and the District of Columbia have compulsory attendance until 18, and 11 others require attendance until age 17.” [2]

I think increasing the compulsory attendance to 18 is a great idea and a benefit to society and students. While there are jobs available to people who did not complete high school, the higher skilled, better paying jobs require at minimum a high school diploma or GED (General Educational Development), the equivalent of a diploma.  In the United States there are restrictions on what kids can do until they are recognized as legal adults at 18. For example, they cannot vote, gamble, get married or smoke until they are 18. So why should children be able to drop out of school without earning a diploma before the age of 18?

Most importantly, students benefit personally, socially, and financially when they stay in school. Drop outs are six times more likely to come from low-income families than high income families.[3] If students stay in school long enough to earn their diploma, they have more opportunities to better their lifestyle. A high school diploma can often give students a higher self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment. In the past, people were able to find suitable careers with some education or at minimum, a high school diploma. However, the standard is changing and more job sectors are requiring some sort of tertiary education. Josh Angrist, a labor economist at MIT, said “each year of schooling raises your earnings about 10%.” [4] The additional earnings over a lifetime can be significant. The average income for a high school dropout in 2009 was almost $8,000 less than a student with a high school diploma and $28,000 less than a student with a bachelor’s degree.[3] A lot of money and potential is lost when students do not earn their high school diploma.

Society is also affected by students who do not obtain their high school diploma. Especially in this current economic recession, high school dropouts are more likely to be unemployed because they do not have the education or skill of other workers.[3] Additionally, governments have to dedicate more money to social programs when people are less educated.[3] When students earn their diploma, they are able to get better jobs, have higher productivity and earn more in a lifetime. These factors can lead to better innovation and advancements in industry and more tax revenue for local, state and federal government.[3] From 1995-2009, the United States was consistently below the average for the number of high school graduates in the developed world.[5] Alliance for Education estimated that the United States could have earned an additional $154 billion if the Class of 2011 drop-outs had graduated.[3] Further, educated adults are more likely to encourage younger generations to excel and further their education.

Many critics like to point out that you can force a child to stay in school until they are 18, but you cannot force them to learn or stay focused. Unfortunately, this is true. In general, many 16 or 17 year olds do not understand the life changing consequences of their actions when dropping out of school. Given the number of drop-outs who return for a GED, it is clear students later understand the value of earning their high school diploma.

Therefore, perhaps more attention should be focused on fixing the root causes of dropping out. Counselors, along with teachers, should help guide students into programs such as night classes or alternative schools if students are considering dropping out.[6] Moreover, if students are not excelling in the traditional style of high school they should be guided into more trade-based education system.

Not only are there consequences for students who drop out of high school, but society also pays a price. A high school diploma might be a small piece of paper, but it can provide students more opportunities in the future. Education and investment in the future are achievements we should all take pride in.

–Catherine Kus

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