In fact, a 2009 survey released by Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens shows that 32 percent of teens say getting a job is the biggest obstacle they face to graduating.
Unfortunately, what these teens lose by dropping out is enormous earning potential for the rest of their lives. Dropouts earn $9,200 less per year than high school graduates and more than $1 million less over a lifetime than college graduates.
Reducing the dropout rate makes sense for individual students, but it also makes strong economic sense for the nation. For example, a study by the Alliance for Excellent Education finds that cutting the dropout rate in half for just one high school class in the nation's 50 largest cities would result annually in $4.1 billion in additional earnings, 30,000 additional jobs, and $5.3 billion in economic growth.
We are beginning to see more interest in this subject from politicians, local communities and businesses. Slowly, people are coming around to the fact that we need to address this crisis or fall behind as a society.
So what should our goals be? Simply put, we should try to cut the dropout rate in half by 2018. It is a bold goal, but the benefits are enormous.
The government would reap $45 billion in extra tax revenues and reduced costs in public health, crime, and welfare payments if the number of high school dropouts among 20-year olds in the United States today, which numbers more than 700,000 individuals, were cut in half.
Further, we must expose our teenagers to real world experiences. Research shows that 80 percent of dropouts would have stayed in school had they been exposed to more real-world learning.
Your voice and involvement matter, with your kids and in your community. Advocate for their education and engage in their learning. We cannot afford to ignore this monumental problem here at home; our future depends on our children and we must not let them down.
Fulmer is the executive director of the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens. Wise, former governor of West Virginia, is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education.
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE