High School Dropouts Cost Nation $35 Billion, Study Says

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

A newly-released report from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project suggests that suspensions of high school students across the country are costing the nation a total of $35 billion each year.

The report, “The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and Its Disparate Impact,” found that suspensions in only one year of school, the 10th grade, were responsible for 67,000 students dropping out of high school.  The authors suggest that in the end, that statistic raises the total cost to the nation above $35 billion.

In total, 71% of tenth graders who were suspended at least once in the 2001-02 school year ended up graduating two years later.  Meanwhile, 94% of sophomores who were not in any sort of serious trouble in the same time frame graduated on time, marking a 23 percentage point difference.

Estimates suggest that 16% of tenth graders received a suspension in the period studied, with the estimated economic cost around $35.74 billion.

Students who are suspended are at a higher risk of dropping out, according to the study, which in turn increases the fiscal and social costs to the nation.  The authors suggest that a decrease to the suspension rate could save society money over the long term.

If the suspension rate were to be lowered just one percentage point, the authors find that it could save a total of $2.23 billion.  Lowering the suspension rate by half, bringing it to 8%, would save an estimated $17.87 billion.

Co-author Russell Rumberger, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, feels the number obtained from the study is conservative because it only applies to a single year, writes Anya Kamenetz for NPR.

A two-step process was used for the study in order to associate cost with school suspensions by calculating how likely it was that students who received suspensions would later drop out of school, as well as the cost to society when people drop out of school.

The authors maintain that those who drop out of school typically earn less money and therefore pay less in taxes.  In addition, they are less likely to have health insurance.  Because they have less access to preventative medicine, they are more likely to have worse health later on and be in greater need of additional care, most of which will be paid for by taxpayers.  They also tend to rely on public assistance more often.

They go on to say that this group of people are more likely to run into trouble with the law, causing taxpayers to pay for court and prison costs.

One example found that in California, the average high school dropout ends up costing the local, state, and federal governments $168,880 throughout the course of their lives.

For the study, researchers controlled for factors such as family income, parental education, and test scores, still finding a 12 percentage point impact to the dropout rate just from suspensions.

While Rumberger says that school leaders do have control over who receives suspensions and how many times this happens, he adds that “keeping bodies in the door” is not always enough.

Instead, the report suggests schools use practices such as restorative justice and emotional skill-building, which involve educators playing an active role in helping teenagers to resolve conflicts and manage their emotions.