How Career Education Can Reduce the High School Dropout Rate

Though it has been improving in recent years, the United States still has a high school dropout problem. The U.S. lags behind many developed countries in graduation rates, including Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, and Germany. Each year, nearly 1.2 million students drop out of high school, and as a result, they will have fewer job options and lower salaries than their peers who do graduate.

Many estimate that high school dropouts earn $130,000 less than graduates throughout their lifetimes. And high school dropouts are also more likely to commit crimes in the U.S. That’s a painful thought for any parent of a teen.

Clearly, high school dropouts face a lot of disadvantages in life, and they’ll do better if they can stay in school. But some kids need more motivation to stay in class.

Career Education in High School

Students who can’t or don’t want to attend college after high school can be tempted to drop out because they don’t think their high school classes will benefit them. But students who have the opportunity to explore future careers often find more value in staying in high school. High school career readiness programs have expanded over the years and now better prepare students for life after school. Students can study subjects in career fields that interest them such as business, health science, nursing, public safety, agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and information technology.

Reducing Dropout Rates

Many students complain that they don’t learn useful skills in high school. They don’t see a connection between reading Shakespeare and the careers they’ll eventually have. Since they don’t believe the skills they learn in school are useful, they drop out to start working.

It’s not surprising, then, to learn that career technical education (CTE) reduces high school dropout rates and gives kids more opportunities after graduation.

When schools introduce career programs, students see they can learn useful skills that will help them get jobs. The kids feel more involved, and the parents know that their children are moving toward successful futures.

One study found that low-income career and tech high school students are 21 percent more likely to graduate than those not taking such classes. Low-income students enrolled in CTE programs also receive higher scores on standardized tests according to the study. Interestingly, students from higher-income families are also more likely to graduate when their schools offer CTE classes.

Engaging Older Students

Dropout rates increase as students get older. Research shows that introducing CTE courses to a student’s curriculum during junior and senior years curbs dropout rates even more. Students who are at risk of leaving school before graduation suddenly discover a renewed interest in education when they are introduced to career readiness courses.

Schools and educators should look for cues that students may be losing interest in graduating and, when possible, offer them career education courses.

Finding Career Education Courses

Educators are still measuring the effects of offering career education courses in high school. Current studies, though, show that CTE programs already produce two outcomes: lower dropout rates and higher on-time graduation rates.

If your high school student has lost the motivation to stay in school or doesn’t have a plan for the future, career education may be a helpful solution. Ask your child’s school about the types of career education they offer, and find out what career fields your child might be interested in. You might also consider a Destinations Career Academy for your student. Destinations Career Academies are tuition-free online public high schools that offer core high school academic courses in addition to a range of career-focused electives based on students’ interest (courses and opportunities vary by school), so check for a school in your area.


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