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Education strategies to improve high school graduation rates

Education strategies can ensure that high school students receive effective instruction, stay on track with academic coursework, and have access to enriching activities outside the classroom.

Individuals with a high school diploma (or its equivalent) are more likely to graduate from college or a workforce training program, obtain high-quality employment, and create stable households for their children.

How does high school graduation affect economic mobility?

Graduating from high school decreases the likelihood of living in poverty. 1

Individuals who do not graduate from high school are significantly more likely to live in poverty, suffer from unemployment, experience poor health outcomes, and be incarcerated than individuals with a high school diploma.

Individuals with a high school diploma earn more than individuals without a high school diploma. 2 3

Individuals with a high school degree but no post-secondary education earn approximately $8,000 more per year than individuals without a high school diploma, adding up to $260,000 more in lifetime earnings. Individuals who receive a GED tend to earn less than individuals with a high school diploma but more than individuals without a high school diploma or GED.

A high school diploma is correlated with higher levels of well-being. 4

Individuals without a high school diploma are more likely to suffer from chronic disease, have unplanned pregnancies, and abuse alcohol or other substances compared to individuals who have graduated from high school.

High school graduates are less likely to be incarcerated than individuals without a high school diploma. 5 6

Individuals without a high school diploma make up more than 80 percent of the incarcerated population of the United States. The average cost of incarceration is over $33,000 per inmate per year.

Categories of successful interventions

  • Dropout prevention programs: Provide students at risk of dropping out with a variety of services to encourage high school persistence. Can include educational, social-emotional, case management, or other types of services
  • Dual enrollment/early college programs: Programs that allow students to enroll in college-level courses and earn college credits while still in high school
  • Effective teaching: Strategies that improve teacher quality, provide professional development opportunities for teachers, and attract and retain effective instructors

Evidence-based interventions

Intervention Type Category Evidence Level
Alternative high schools for at-risk students Policy
  • Dropout prevention programs
Proven (highest tier)
Attendance interventions for chronically absent students Strategy
  • Child wellness programs
  • Dropout prevention programs
Proven (highest tier)
Big Brothers Big Sisters Program
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
Strong (second-highest tier)
Community schools Strategy
  • Community schools
Strong (second-highest tier)
Dropout prevention programs Strategy
  • Career and technical education
  • Dropout prevention programs
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
Proven (highest tier)
Dropout prevention programs for teen mothers Strategy
  • Dropout prevention programs
  • High-quality childcare
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
Proven (highest tier)
GED/HSED certificate programs Strategy
  • Ged/hsed programs
Strong (second-highest tier)
Health career recruitment Strategy
  • Career advising programs
  • College access programs
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
Proven (highest tier)
Mentoring programs for high school graduation Strategy
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
Proven (highest tier)
Promise Academy Charter Schools (Harlem Children's Zone) Program
  • Charter schools
Strong (second-highest tier)
School-based prevention programs for aggressive and disruptive behavior Strategy
  • Child wellness programs
Proven (highest tier)
School-based violence and bullying prevention programs Strategy
  • Child wellness programs
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
Proven (highest tier)
School-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports Strategy
  • Child wellness programs
  • Teacher training and professional development
Proven (highest tier)
Small Schools of Choice Strategy
  • School-wide practices
Strong (second-highest tier)
Summer learning programs Strategy
  • After-school, extracurricular, and summer programs
Proven (highest tier)
Targeted truancy interventions Strategy
  • Dropout prevention programs
Proven (highest tier)
Trauma-informed schools Strategy
  • Child wellness programs
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
Strong (second-highest tier)
Universal teacher classroom management practices Strategy
  • Teacher training and professional development
Proven (highest tier)
Footnotes
  1. Bloom and Haskins, "Helping High School Dropouts Improve Their Prospects," Brookings Institution 2010
    https://www.brookings.edu/research/helping-high-school-dropouts-improve-their-prospects/
  2. America's Promise Alliance, "High School Graduation Facts: Ending the Dropout Crisis" 2018
    https://www.americaspromise.org/high-school-graduation-facts-ending-dropout-crisis
  3. Ewert, "GED Recipients Have Lower Earnings, are Less Likely to Enter College," US Census Bureau 2012
    https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2012/02/ged-recipients-have-lower-earnings-are-less-likely-to-enter-college.html
  4. American Public Health Association, "The Dropout Crisis: A Public Health Problem and the Role of School-Based Health Care," 2018
    https://www.apha.org/-/media/files/pdf/sbhc/dropout_crisis.ashx?la=en&hash=45980EEE0E7AD5063B04AC8183C2B463AD3031BE
  5. Romero, "The Dropout Dilemma," Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond 2014
    https://www.richmondfed.org/publications/research/econ_focus/2014/q3/feature1
  6. Vera Institute, "The Price of Prisons," 2015
    https://www.vera.org/publications/price-of-prisons-2015-state-spending-trends/price-of-prisons-2015-state-spending-trends/price-of-prisons-2015-state-spending-trends-prison-spending