What is the economic impact of dropping out of high school?

Posted on November 8, 2011 by

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Matt Richmond, WSKG reporter for the Innovation Trail

Matt Richmond, BINGHAMTON

In the US, a child drops out of school every nine seconds. That’s why this month WSKG is exploring the dropout crisis in a series we’re calling “9 Seconds,” made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s American Graduate Initiative. In the second part of our series, The Innovation Trail’s Matt Richmond reports that while a high school diploma doesn’t prepare a student to work in today’s economy, it’s still needed.

“As I think back to my high school career and my school counselors, I think they were quite likely to direct someone like me toward a future that was similar to my mother and dad,” says Tony DiLucci.

DiLucci grew up in a working class family. Now he’s the director of the career and technical education center at the BOCES in Tompkins County.

“I had a high school counselor who said to me, ‘college, why do you want to go to college? Your dad works in a factory, your mom is a homemaker, graduate from high school and get a job at one of the local factories,'” says DiLucci.

He says the idea that a kid can just go into a factory and get a job that lasts for the rest of their life just doesn’t work anymore.

“Is it wrong to drop out of high school and go right into a job? Not if they can be successful, but I would study the research and I’m sure you’d see that doesn’t happen very often,” said DiLucci.

But also infrequent these days is a student that leaves high school with the skills needed in today’s businesses.

(Sound: machines in Kionix production facility)

This is what a factory sounds like today.

Kionix makes something called an inertial motion sensor at its Ithaca factory. Here, machines create, program and manipulate the tiny sensors. They can be found in phones, cars, game controllers. This is what makes the screen on your phone turn when you turn your phone on its side.

Kionix employs 190 people here, and most of them operate machines.

“We’re looking for basic computer skills, the ability to follow both written and verbal instruction,” Says Steve Morris, Kionix’s director of operations. His company hires people based on what are known as soft skills.

“Kionix looks for employees that show the ability to multi-task. We’re looking for strong work ethics. We look for team players,” says Morris.

He says “I would think it would be great if somebody had a high school education, that doesn’t mean in any way that they wouldn’t possess the skills I need on the floor.”

Morris hires people based on their work ethic, then trains them to do the rest. He says public schools completely fail to prepare a kid to work at a company like his.

But that’s not to say that a high school education isn’t valuable.

Study after study show the more education you have, the more money you make. In a 2011 paper, researchers at Columbia University showed that a high school dropout in New York or New Jersey makes just half what high school graduates make. College graduates can expect to make five times more on average than a high school dropout.

Albert Penna is the principal at Binghamton High School and did his PhD research on dropout prevention. He likes to remind kids how much money they’re missing out on if they don’t get a diploma.

Says Penna, “Well, if they don’t stay in school, where do they go? Incarceration, unemployment, social services, welfare, all of that, they become wards of the state. That adds up.”

In New York City, those costs add up to an extra 37,000 dollar tax burden during a dropout’s lifetime, according to the Columbia study.

But for a kid not interested in going to college, what’s the point in finishing high school?

Tompkins County career center director Tony DiLucci says dropping out takes away too many of a young person’s options.

“The rule is that the high school diploma tends to open the door half-way,” says DiLucci, “the college diploma tends to open the door up a little bit more and then the student has to walk through the door.”

DiLucci says his job is to help kids walk through that door by offering relevant classes in green building, digital media, nursing and animal sciences. That’s along with the traditional vocational technology courses like auto tech and welding. He says the point is to offer kids more options than to be, as he puts it, bakers, butchers and candlestick makers.

PHOTO: Gerry Szymanski / InnovationTrail.org
Posted in: News