My wife Betty and I attended the McMinnville Central High School Class of 1957 Reunion the other night. She graduated in 1957 and I should have too, but I dropped out of school in 1955 when I was a sophomore. It was a silly, sophomoric thing to do.
Why I dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Army, only to be Honorably Discharged scarcely four months later, is fully covered in the highly acclaimed and modestly sold book, "The Boys Of Benning," which I co-wrote with 13 of my Infantry OCS classmates. It was published by AuthorHouse in 2013, and is still available online at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Books A Million, as well as directly from yours truly. But I digress.
Dropping out of high school in 1955 ranks high among the dumbest things I’ve ever done.
Dropping back into high school and graduating in 1958 from McMinnville City High School,one of the “finest high schools in the Western Hemisphere” was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.
Sadly, about 1.2 million young Americans drop out of high school every year. That’s 1 student every 29 seconds. If they remain out of school, the consequences can be dire. Young people who don’t finish high school are much more likely to struggle with unemployment or underemployment, poverty, and excessive dependence on welfare benefits.They are also prone to poor physical and mental health conditions, and more inclined toward criminal activity than those who are more highly educated.
Even worse, the economic consequences transcend the cohorts of high school dropouts in America. For example, dropouts from our nation’s class of 2011 “are forecast to cost the U.S. economy an estimated $154 billion over the course of their lifetimes.”
Dropout rates are also linked to higher rates of imprisonment. A recent California Attorney General report “estimates that students who do not complete high school are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than those who graduate.”
Here in the USA, both primary and secondary education are considered by many to be basic human rights. However, those who need education the most, including children living in poverty, are least likely to attend and graduate from high school. Instead, they are more likely to fall into a vicious circle of poverty, unemployment and violence.
The problem with American high school dropouts may not be as bad as it used to be, but it’s still bad enough to merit more attention at local, state, and national levels. That’s why we need the concerted efforts of parents, teachers, students, and community leaders. Every potential dropout we can keep in school until they graduate becomes a more valuable asset to themselves -- and to the rest of us.
I’ll have more later on why students drop out of high school, and what we can do about it.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.