Author: Carl

Why High School Dropouts Are Not Worth the Cost

Why High School Dropouts Are Not Worth the Cost

Online school put US kids behind. Some adults have regrets.


Published: April 29, 2008 3:10 p.m. ET

What does a high-school dropout do in the 21st century? His or her answer: Get a bachelor’s degree.

This is a trend that has spread from the rural South to the city of Chicago. Among other findings, the most popular majors at four major universities are computer science, electrical engineering, and business and accounting.

“The average college student now says, ‘I want an education,’” says Steven Levitt, co-director of the University of Chicago’s Program on Inequality in Education, or PIE.

For many students, college used to have much to recommend it: a stable place to live, a group of friends, a chance to study something that interests them. Now, students are looking to schools like Princeton, Stanford, and Cal-Berkeley. So they’ve dropped out of high school, moved to the city, and picked up one or two diplomas. They’ll go back to school for an undergraduate degree and then go from there.

“The thing that we’ve learned is that once they get a degree, there are no incentives to go back to school,” says David Autor, an economist at PIE. “It’s not to their advantage.”

For at least some young adults, education is not worth the effort. A new survey by the nonprofit Center for American Progress found that 30 percent of high-school graduates said that their high school was “very” important to their current decisions about education: 20 percent cited high school as the deciding factor; 16 percent selected a college or technical school.

The survey found that a good chunk of them—37 percent—have dropped out of school before they’ve finished freshman year. (The survey was conducted in 2004 and 2005.) The median age of those who drop out of school each year is 20.

For a high-school dropout in the ’70s, there were rewards: You could get a

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