If you are thinking of dropping out of high school before you turn 18, you had better act fast because President Obama is trying to change the rules. In his recent State of the Union address, Obama called for all 50 states to not allow students to drop out of high school before they are 18-years old.
Although this is the first time that the national government is directly involving itself in this issue, many states have been struggling with it for a while now. For example, several states, including Alaska, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, and Rhode Island, all tried to pass legislation that would increase the age at which students could drop out of high school to 18-years old. However, Rhode Island was the only state that actually approved the legislative efforts and passed the law. For the other states, the dropout age remains firmly set at 16-years old.
“Efforts to raise the age usually come up against the argument that requiring students to stay in school when they no longer want to be there is disruptive to other students and not fair to the teacher,” said a senior policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, Sunny Deye. “Home-school groups often oppose raising the compulsory attendance age, and especially now, in this budget crunch, there are major concerns about the fiscal impact.”
Although raising the age of compulsory education might put a strain on already overstretched budgets, economists have found that by requiring a higher dropout age for students, schools improve their graduation rates and also improve their students’ rates of being accepted to an institute of higher education. This is also beneficial for the students in the long run because a higher level of education usually equals a higher salary.
“With almost a third of our students dropping out of high school, we have an economic crisis,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. “We need to be sending a stronger message about the importance of education.”
Dr. Robert Balfanz is a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University who has studied the effects of raising the compulsory attendance age. In 2010, he released a report that showed that in two of the six states that increased the dropout age, more students graduated than before the age was raised. However, in one state, the graduation rate actually fell after the age increase.
“It’s symbolically and strategically important to raise the age to 18, but it’s not the magical thing that in itself will keep kids in school,” Balfanz said.
Instead, schools should start offering more support systems to help students stay in school and stay interested in furthering their education. Schools can do this by providing classes that students feel will benefit them in the “real world” and by explaining how current classes will also be beneficial in the future.