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Study: Reducing Dropout Rate Would Pump Billions Into Economy

Reducing the number of high school dropouts would stimulate the economy.

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High school dropouts could be costing the nation billions of dollars, according to a new report by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

That's because high school dropouts earn less money, pay fewer taxes, and spend less of the money they earn than those who have received at least a high school diploma.

The study estimates that if half of the 1.3 million students who dropped out from the class of 2010 had graduated, those students would earn about $7.6 billion more annually compared to their likely earnings without a high school diploma. The additional spending would generate about 54,000 additional jobs and would add approximately $713 million annually in state tax revenues.

The project was spearheaded by former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, now the organization's president, who has championed the cause of education reform beyond those who have children in the public school system." My goal is if I can't move you [on education reform] on equity, then I'm going to try to move you on the economics," Wise says. "I want to show them why that high school 15 miles away has a direct impact on everyone's economic future."

[Learn how some schools are improving graduation rates.]

Wise says he hopes the report will influence lawmakers and state executives as they deal with difficult budget decisions.

"Lawmakers at the federal and state level have critical decisions to make, [including] major budget cuts," Wise says. "The important thing to recognize is cutting deficits is important, but you get more bang for your buck by cutting dropouts. Cutting dropouts is even more important than cutting deficits."

One might assume that with more high school graduates, the value of a diploma would decrease, but Wise says that's not the case. He points to the 1944 G.I. Bill that allowed many returning World War II veterans to get a college or professional education.

"The result of that bill was not a shrinking pie, but an expanding one," he says. "And this is not the same economy we had 40 years ago, which was an industrial economy with loads of averagely skilled people. We live in an information age economy, and there is only one currency: education."

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