High School Dropouts: Alabama's Number One Education and Economic Problem

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High dropout rates Alabama's biggest economic problem, study finds. The Birmingham News. (2008).

Suggested Citation

Suitts, Steve. High School Dropouts: Alabama's Number One Education and Economic Problem. Southern Education Foundation. (2008).

2008 - The report highlights Alabama's high school dropout rate as a critical challenge to improving the state economy and student achievement trends.  It shows that a high number of students were failing to graduate from high school and college, causing the state to have one of the worst high school dropout rates in the nation.  In 2007, the report estimates Alabama’s high school dropout rate was 39 percent, causing the state to rank somewhere between 42nd and 47th in the nation.

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It also argues the state’s educational problems link directly to Alabama’s lagging economy during the last three decades. Two generations ago, Alabamians who did not graduate from high school could find decent jobs and enjoy a good life.  On average, they earned an annual income of more than $20,000-respectable money during the 1950s and early 1960s- representing approximately 50 cents for every dollar of income earned by the average graduate.  Those days are gone.  In 2002, workers who failed to graduate from high school earned only 29 cents for every dollar that the average college-educated worker received.  Alabama children whose parents have no high school education today are virtually destined to grow up low income families.  

The report estimates major gains in the growth of the economy if the state steadily increases both high school graduation rates and college going rates over several years.  If Alabama were to decrease its statewide dropout rate annually by two percent over two decades, the state would realize a net increase of more than $190 million in government savings and revenues.  If the state also increased by only two percent annually the number of high school dropouts who return to get a diploma, the net gains in government revenues over time would approach $400 million.

Major Recommendations of the Report:

  • Ensure students entering high school are not so far behind in knowledge, skills, and learning habits;
  • Expand high-quality pre-Kindergarten;
  • Reduce the use of out-of-school suspensions and find new ways to maintain discipline and a safe learning environment;
  • Adequately fund all schools (89 percent of Alabama's students received fewer school resources than the average American student);
  • Set standards and incentives to lower dropout rates; and
  • Increase financial aid resources for low income high school graduates to attend college.

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