Dropout Reduction: Prevention, Intervention, and Recovery


The following links provide some basic information to describe the high school dropout problem in Massachusetts and nationally.


The definitions for the annual dropout rate, the cohort graduation rate, and the explanation for the differences between these two calculations can all be found on the Annual Dropout Rate vs. Cohort Graduation Rate page.

Who is Dropping Out?

Massachusetts Data:

The Department releases annual dropout rates reports (available from the 1993-94 School Year to the present).

The Department releases cohort graduation rates data (available from the 2006 cohort to the present).

National Data:

The National Center for Education Statistics report Dropout Rates in the United States: 2005 View External Link

Consequences of Dropping Out

The consequences of not graduating from high school are clearly stated in Northeastern University Center for Labor Market Studies' 2007 report, State and Local Fiscal Consequences of High School Dropout Problems in Massachusetts Download PDF Document. Adults in Massachusetts that leave high school prior to earning a high school diploma are employed less often and earn far less than their peers that graduate from high school. For example, high school dropouts can expect to earn about $500,000 less over the course of their lifetime than high school graduates.

Dropping out of school has serious consequences for students, their families. Students who decided to drop out of school face social stigma, fewer job opportunities, lower salaries, and higher probability of involvement with the criminal justice system.

National Statistics Reflecting the Impact

  • Dropping out of school impacts student's self esteem and psychological well-being, faced with the reality that they lack skills and knowledge to fulfill their desires.
  • Earnings for young men and women who quite school have steadily declined over the past three decades. In 1971 male dropouts earned an estimated $37,087, which decreased by 35% to $23,902 in 2002.
  • In 2001, 45% of adult high school dropouts were unemployed compared to 26% of high school graduates and 13% of graduates from a four-year college.
  • Dropouts are substantially more likely to rely on public welfare and health services.
  • Dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated during their lifetime.
  • Ninety % of the 11,000 youth in detention facilities have no more than a 9th grade education.
  • Dropouts cost the U.S. more than $260 billion in lost wages, tax revenue, and productivity over their life times.


Barton, P.E. (2005). One-third of a nation: Risking dropout rates & declining opportunities. Princeton, NJ: Policy Information Center, Educational Testing Service, p. 5.

Sum, Andrew et al. (2002). Left behind in the labor market: labor market problems of the Nation's out-of-school, young adult populations. Chicago, IL: Alternative Schools Network.

Adair, V.C. (2001). Poverty and the (broken) promise of education. Harvard Educational Review, 71(2), pp. 217-239.

Factors that May Place Students At-Risk

There are many factors that may place students at risk and contribute to a student's decision to drop out of school. These include school, community, and family related factors. In many cases, no one factor leads to a student's decision to drop out, rather it is a combination of factors. The following list was adapted from the publication by SE Wells (1990) At Risk Youth: Identification, Programs, and Recommendations and the Massachusetts Department of Education 1989 report Changing Schools and Communities: A Systematic Approach to Dropout Prevention.

Examples of School Factors:

  • Excessive use of discipline methods such as suspensions
  • Disregard of individual student learning styles
  • Institutional racism
  • Lack of relevant curriculum
  • Large enrollment/class size
  • Lack of language instruction
  • Lack of participation in school governance by key constituents
  • Lack of effective student assessment
  • Lack of diversity in instructional styles
  • Lack of professional development opportunities
  • Lack of cross-cultural sensitivity
  • Lack of appropriate role models
  • Low expectations from staff
  • Low parent/community involvement in school
  • Negative and/or unsafe school environment
  • Passive instructional strategies
  • Raised academic standards without adequate school support
  • Rigid daily and weekly schedules
  • Segregation by ability grouping or tracking

Examples of Community Factors:

  • Lack of community support services
  • Lack of community support for schools and linkages with schools
  • High incidence of criminal activity
  • Unsafe neighborhoods
  • High unemployment
  • Exploitation of youth, including sex trafficking
  • Lack of adequate health care
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Proliferation of controlled substances

Examples of Family/Home Factors:

  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Numerous family responsibilities
  • No parental involvement in school
  • Low parental expectations
  • Non-English speaking home
  • Child abuse or neglect
  • Domestic violence
  • High mobility
  • Homelessness
  • Little opportunity for learning outside of school
  • Low educational attainment of parent(s)

Last Updated: July 21, 2009

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


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