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Dropouts Are A Tradition We Can No Longer Afford

Teachers College at Columbia University is the largest graduate school of education in the country. Columbia is continuing an admirable tradition - the idea that education is a lifetime profession, and to be your best at it you needed to bring something to the table besides intra-industry skill sets and technical knowledge.

We live in a world where the powerful economic forces at work in education tend to work in opposition to traditions of any sort, irrespective of their value. Certainly, there are forces driving people to pursue education as a means to increase their income. On the other hand, since higher education is expensive and graduate schools even more so, there are also pressures on students to enter the workforce as soon as possible.

At the high school level, where the costs of education are not usually borne by the individual student, we see an alarming number of people dropping out - to meet a future that lies somewhere between bleak and unattractive. The whys of this are not known, exactly, but its costs are startling.

Recently, Columbia University's Teachers College hosted a symposium to examine the costs of inadequate education, and it painted a vivid picture of economic losses from school dropouts. These losses are both personal and social, and they include direct and indirect costs.

On the personal side, during his or her lifetime, the average high school dropout will earn about a quarter-million dollars less than a graduate. And on the social side, the analysts estimate that lowered income for dropouts reduces income tax revenue by $84 billion a year.

There are risks, certainly, in defining and valuing education in exclusively economic terms. But we cannot afford to ignore the costs we, the public, have to underwrite when students fail to complete high school. Fixing the dropout problem will help a lot of kids live better lives and, as a bonus, it will save us a lot of money. It's hard to see the harm in that.

This article, written by James McCusker, appeared in the November 6th, 2005 publication of The Herald Net.

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