By TAYA FLORES, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - It has long been known that high school graduates get better paying jobs than dropouts. But now, an education advocacy group has put a price tag on it for the Maryland economy: $4.7 billion over the working lives of just one year's worth of Maryland dropouts.
That is what the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based organization that promotes education, says the 2006 class of Maryland high school dropouts will forgo in lost wages over the course of the estimated 30 to 35 years of their working lifetimes.
"If these classes keep dropping out at this rate we will see the effects," said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, the agency that conducted the study. "Many of these dropouts will not be taxpayers, but tax takers, causing taxpayers to pay for incarceration, health care and welfare assistance."
The Alliance calculated that a high school graduate can expect to make $260,000 more over the course of a lifetime than a dropout. Multiplying that by the estimated number of Maryland dropouts in 2006, the Alliance came up with the $4.7 billion amount. The study also emphasizes how inflation reduces the dollar amount earned each year.
The estimate of the number of Maryland dropouts in 2006 used by the Alliance is significantly higher than that of the state Department of Education. The Alliance says that Maryland's high school class of 2006 has a graduation rate about just over 74 percent. The state Department of Education says the graduation rate was 85 percent.
Officials explained the difference is due to different methods used in estimating the number of dropouts and in definitions of what constitutes a dropout. A state education spokesman said he had not seen the study and couldn't comment.
The Alliance started the study in 2005 to show the direct dollar impact of dropouts on the economy and how dropout rates not only affect the students, but everyone in society, Wise said. The agency plans to continue the study to measure the amount of money lost for each class of dropouts in the state and nationwide.
The Alliance says that Maryland graduated an estimated 74 percent of its ninth-graders in 2006, which means about 18,000 students did not graduate last year, according to estimated rates based on data from a 2006 report by Editorial Projects in Education, a non-profit education policy study group.
Nationally, the annual graduation rate in 2006 was between 68 to 70 percent with only four states reaching more than 80 percent, Wisconsin, Vermont, North Dakota, and New Jersey, according to the Alliance report.
Wise said that this is an urgent issue, not just for dropouts but for everyone.
"This is important because it shows the high cost of high school dropouts especially when we are talking about what we need to do to improve education," Wise said referring to education on the state and federal legislative agendas. "Not only about the impact on dropouts but overall economic community."
Dropouts not only earn less money, but drain the state and nation's economy by lowering tax revenues and increasing the cost of social programs, according to the report. Even when dropouts work, they earn $9,671 less annually than students who graduate high school, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Both Wise and Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Board of Education, said that each state should strive to graduate all students, even if it's an idealistic goal.
"That's going to always be our goal, the state has to aim high," Reinhard said. "Every child has his or her own story, some struggle at a young age to catch up, others have family problems, or social ills. There are many reasons, but there's never a good reason to drop out."
Reinhard said the state recognizes that dropout rates are a problem and has reduced them over the last decade through non-traditional programs such as night classes, extra-counseling, and career-oriented coursework. Another ways to increase graduation rates is to prepare personal graduation plans early in students' academic careers. Wise said the plans should be made for students in the seventh grade to assess their strengths and weaknesses. Mentoring can also help encourage students to graduate, he said.