ERIC Identifier: ED291015
Publication Date: 1987-09-00
Author: Beekman, Nancy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
The Dropout's Perspective on Leaving School. Highlights: An
Researchers and theorists have studied and written about the reasons why
students drop out of high school, what happens to these dropouts, and what the
future holds for them. But what do the dropouts themselves have to say about
their decision to drop out? How do they see their lives after dropping out? What
advice would they offer high school students today who are thinking of dropping
REASONS FOR DROPPING OUT
What Dropouts Say. Asked why they decided to leave high school, dropouts from
the past thirty years consistently cited three major reasons (Curley, Sawyer,
and Savitsky, 1971; "High School," 1984; "High School," 1977; Kumar and
Bergstrand, 1979; "Mother," 1982; Norris, Wheeler, and Finley, 1980; Peng and
Takai, 1983; Stetler, 1959):
1. A dislike of school and a view that school is boring and not relevant to
2. Low academic achievement, poor grades, or academic failure.
3. A need for money and a desire to work full-time.
Many female dropouts also cited pregnancy or marriage as reasons for dropping
out. These issues, however, will not be addressed in this digest.
What Researchers Say. Studies of high school dropouts conducted over the past
thirty years in several states and nationwide have identified these same three
basic reasons for dropping out (see references cited above):
1. Dislike of School. Consistent with the dropouts' reported dislike of and
boredom with school, researchers have found a pattern of absenteeism among
dropouts when they were still in school and a low rate of participation in
2. Low Academic Achievement. Researchers have found that lowered performance
in either reading or mathematics tended to increase the likelihood that a
student would leave school. Data suggest that failure often begins in elementary
3. Desire to Work. High school dropouts tend to belong to families of low
socioeconomic status ("Mother," 1982; Peng and Takai, 1983). In support of this
finding, dropouts themselves report that they left school planning to work
LIFE AFTER DROPPING OUT
Employment Issues. Dropouts interviewed in a Phoenix, Arizona study (Norris
and others, 1980) reported quitting school either because they already had a job
(15.7%) or because they wanted to work (37.1%). A follow-up study revealed that
far fewer respondents were able to get a job, work at a job they already had, or
learn a trade than had planned to do so.
Interviews with other dropouts confirm the difficulty that dropouts have in
finding and keeping jobs:
*Of dropouts interviewed in a Wisconsin study (Kumar and Bergstrand, 1979),
60% reported being employed full-time and another 8% reported being employed
part-time. One-third of employed respondents reported earning less than minimum
*Of dropouts interviewed in Philadelphia ("High School," 1977), 46% reported
being unemployed. Of employed dropouts, 37% held unskilled jobs or worked in
low-paying service occupations.
*Of dropouts interviewed in Connecticut (Stetler, 1959) 25% reported working
full-time while 24% reported being unemployed and looking for work.
*Of Dade County, Florida dropouts interviewed ("High School," 1984), 60%
reported being unemployed and not enrolled in any vocational or academic
*Of dropouts interviewed in the HIGH SCHOOL AND BEYOND study (Peng and Takai,
1983), approximately 60% of males and 33% of females reported working full-or
part-time while 27% of males and 31% of females were unemployed and looking for
Dropouts often have lower occupational aspirations than do their peers. A
study of dropouts and high school students in Dade County, Florida ("High
School," 1984) who were matched for race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status
found that those who stayed in school had a quite different view of their lives
compared with dropouts. The majority of dropouts reported wanting blue collar
jobs, while in-school students were almost equally divided among blue collar,
white collar, and professional occupational aspirations. (It is important to
note that the in-school group consisted of potential dropouts still in school
rather than high achievers.)
Unemployment rates are very high among high school dropouts, and future
income of dropouts is less than that of high school graduates. Most employed
dropouts in the Dade County, Florida study reported they were earning minimum
wage, while one-third of employed dropouts in the Wisconsin study reported
earning less than minimum wage. Employed dropouts in a variety of studies
reported working at unskilled jobs or at low-paying service occupations offering
little opportunity for upward mobility.
Return to Education. Although many dropouts report leaving school because of
boredom or a dislike of school, many return to some type of educational program
once they realize how limited their opportunities are without a high school
Approximately two-thirds of dropouts interviewed in a 1956-57 study (Stetler,
1959) planned to complete their high school education in the future, through day
school, night school, or training programs in the armed services. Twenty-nine
percent of dropouts interviewed in Massachusetts (Curley and others, 1971)
returned to school after dropping out and 26% of dropouts interviewed in the
Philadelphia study were back in some educational program.
The Phoenix, Arizona study interviewed dropouts who had enrolled in
alternative schools. They reported returning to school because they: (1) wanted
to graduate so they could have more opportunities; (2) needed more education to
support themselves or their families; (3) saw no future in what they were doing
outside of school; or (4) were bored with being out of school.
DROPOUTS EVALUATE THEIR DECISION
Some researchers have asked dropouts how they felt about their decison to
leave school. Peng and Takai (1983) found that 51% of males and 55% of females
considered leaving school a bad decision. Almost 50% of dropouts interviewed by
Stetler (1959) reported, in retrospect, that their decision to drop out was a
bad one while 35% reported it was a good decision. Of dropouts interviewed by
Curley's group, 37.7% thought dropping out was a bad decision, while 33.5%
thought it was the right decision (Curley and others, 1971).
An important resource for persons working with potential dropouts is a
collection of essays, IS SCHOOL IMPORTANT: ESSAYS BY PEOPLE WHO KNOW (1987),
papers written by Alaskan dropouts enrolled in a General Educational Development
(GED) correspondence program. In their essays students discuss why they quit
school, how well they did in school, what they learned there, and whether it was
difficult for them in the "real world" without a diploma. They offer advice to
other students who are considering dropping out of school.
There are numerous programs and activities designed to lower the dropout rate
and keep students in school through high school graduation. The vast majority of
these programs are staffed by individuals who place high value on school and
education. Perhaps potential dropouts also need to hear from individuals who at
one time shared their own views of school as boring, irrelevant, a waste of
time, and not for them--individuals who chose to drop out of school. Hearing
from experienced dropouts could provide a new perspective and help potential
dropouts to reevaluate their position and choose to graduate from high school.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bleuer, J. C. COUNSELING UNDERACHIEVERS: A COUNSELOR'S GUIDE TO HELPING
STUDENTS IMPROVE THEIR ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of
Michigan, ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services. CG 020 195.
Curley, T. J., A. P. Sawyer, and A. M. Savitsky. A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF
SCHOOL LEAVERS IN THE QUINCY PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM: (1969-1970). Quincy, MA:
Quincy Public Schools, 1971. ED 051 512.
HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUTS AND THE INNER CITY. FINAL REPORT OF THE GRAND JURY IN
THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE ELEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT OF FLORIDA IN AND FOR THE
COUNTY OF DADE. Miami, FL: Dade County Grand Jury, 1984. ED 251 544.
HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUTS: HIGHLIGHT RESULTS OF A SURVEY OF PHILADELPHIA PUBLIC
HIGH SCHOOL PUPILS WHO LEFT SCHOOL IN 1975-76. Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia
School District, 1977. ED 159 508.
IS SCHOOL IMPORTANT: ESSAYS BY PEOPLE WHO KNOW. Juneau, AK: Alaska State
Department of Education, 1987. ED 278 889.
Kumar, V., and J. Bergstrand. FOLLOW-UP OF HIGH SCHOOL NONCOMPLETERS,
1967-1976. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, 1979. ED 222 602.
"MOTHER GOT TIRED OF TAKING CARE OF MY BABY." A STUDY OF DROPOUTS
(Publication no. 82.44). Austin, TX: Austin Independent School District, 1982.
ED 233 102.
Norris, C., L. Wheeler, and M. J. Finley. SPECIAL REPORT: THE DROPOUT PROBLEM
(Report no. 22:11 79/80:013a). Phoenix, AZ: Phoenix Union High School District,
1980. ED 209 265.
Peck, N., A. Law, and R. C. Mills. DROPOUT PREVENTION: WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED.
Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan, ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and
Personnel Services, 1987. ED 279 989.
Peng, S. S., and R. T. Takai. HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUTS: DESCRIPTIVE INFORMATION
FROM "HIGH SCHOOL AND BEYOND." Washington, DC: National Center for Education
Statistics, 1983. ED 236 366.
SECONDARY SCHOOL DROPOUTS. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota State
Department of Education, 1981. ED 203 077.
Stetler, H. G. COMPARATIVE STUDY OF NEGRO AND WHITE DROPOUTS IN SELECTED
CONNECTICUT HIGH SCHOOLS. Hartford, CT: Connecticut Commission on Civil Rights,
1959. ED 020 077.
Walz, G. R. COMBATING THE SCHOOL DROPOUT PROBLEM: PROACTIVE STRATEGIES FOR
SCHOOL COUNSELORS. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan, ERIC Clearinghouse
on Counseling and Personnel Services, 1987. CG 020 240.