Raising Graduation Rates Would Add Billions to Economy, New Data Show

Eva Harder
Jan 11, 2016

More than 65,000 new jobs. An $11.5 billion annual boost to the GDP. An $800 million increase in auto sales, with a $16 billion jump in home sales.

According to new data from the Alliance for Excellent Education, this is what will happen when the nation raises high school graduation rates to 90 percent.

“Compared to high school dropouts, high school graduates are more likely to be employed, less likely to tangle with the criminal justice system, and more likely to have positive life outcomes, including better health and a longer life span,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.

Getting to 90 percent would also increase annual earnings by $7.2 billion, raise annual spending by $5.3 billion and increase federal tax revenue by $1.1 billion, according to the new data.
 

Despite Progress, Graduation Gaps Remain

In December, the Department of Education announced that the national on-time graduation rate is at an all-time high, at 82.3 percent. And earlier in December, congress voted to replace No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which includes strong graduation rate accountability measures.

“These two developments are great news, but with more than 4,000 students still dropping out of high school every day, much work still needs to be done,” Wise said in a webinar that explored the new data, “The Graduation Effect: The Economic Impact of a High School Diploma.”

As the latest Building a GradNation report found, the bulk of that work involves helping students of color, students from low-income backgrounds and students with disabilities graduate on par with their peers. Of the nearly 20 percent of young people who drop out every year, a disproportionate number fall into these subgroups.

“The effects of poverty on today’s youth are staggering and now impact a majority—51 percent—of our nation’s [public school] students,” said Communities In Schools (CIS) President Dan Cardinali.

CIS has partnered with the Alliance for Excellent Education on The Graduation Effect, serving as a model for how nonprofits can work with schools to keep students, many of them low-income, from dropping out.
 

How Nonprofits Can Help

“The struggle of not having a high school diploma isn’t something I saw in a movie or read in a book. They were friends of mine. They were my parents,” San Antonio Councilman Ray Saldaña said.

As a CIS alum, Saldaña joined an Alliance for Excellent Education webinar to share how the program kept him on track to graduate.

“Finding a caring adult [who says] that you should believe in yourself, that you have so much potential, is what CIS did for me,” Saldana said. “CIS changed my trajectory because they had an individual who cared about me.”

Cardinali also stressed the importance of relationships in the lives of youth, especially for youth growing up in poverty.

“It starts with the individual relationship,” Cardinali said. “It is relationships that are transformative, not programs.”

View the economic potential of a 90 percent high school graduation rate in your state, metropolitan area, and the nation as a whole on an interactive map.

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America’s Promise Alliance, leader of the GradNation campaign to get to 90 percent by 2020, is a proud partner of both The Alliance for Excellent Education and Communities In Schools.