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Health strategies to improve high school graduation rates

Health strategies can create more positive learning environments at high schools, help high schoolers avoid risky behaviors, and improve access to physical and psychological care.

Individuals with a high school diploma (or its equivalent) are more likely to complete post-secondary education or training, obtain high-quality employment, and create stable household environments 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

  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management: Clinical and social supports that seek to address trauma, improve mental health, and increase general well-being
  • Nutrition programs: Programs that provide healthy breakfast and lunch options to students for free or reduced prices
  • Sexual health programs: School-based programs that seek to reduce unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases in adolescents and teenagers

Evidence-based interventions

Intervention Type Category Evidence Level
Behavioral interventions to prevent STIs Strategy
  • Sexual health programs
Proven (highest tier)
Community schools Strategy
  • Community schools
Strong (second-highest tier)
Comprehensive risk reduction sexual education Strategy
  • Sexual health programs
Proven (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)
Extracurricular activities Strategy
  • After-school, extracurricular, and summer programs
Proven (highest tier)
Green space and parks Policy
  • Built environment improvements
Strong (second-highest tier)
Juvenile diversion programs Strategy
  • Diversion programs
Strong (second-highest tier)
Long-acting reversible contraception access Strategy
  • Direct health interventions
Strong (second-highest tier)
Mentoring programs for delinquency Strategy
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
Proven (highest tier)
Mentoring programs for high school graduation Strategy
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
Proven (highest tier)
Multi-component school-based obesity prevention programs Strategy
  • Nutrition programs
  • School-based health programs
Proven (highest tier)
Multisystemic therapy for juvenile offenders Strategy
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
Proven (highest tier)
Places for physical activity Policy
  • Built environment improvements
Proven (highest tier)
Restorative justice programs Strategy
  • Restorative justice programs
Strong (second-highest tier)
Safe Routes to School Strategy
  • Child wellness programs
  • Neighborhood safety strategies
Proven (highest tier)
School breakfast programs Strategy
  • Nutrition programs
Proven (highest tier)
School dental programs Strategy
  • School-based health programs
Proven (highest tier)
School fruit and vegetable gardens Strategy
  • Nutrition programs
  • School-based health programs
Proven (highest tier)
School-based health centers Strategy
  • School-based health programs
Proven (highest tier)
School-based social emotional instruction Policy
  • 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)
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)
Treatment for serious juvenile offenders Strategy
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
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