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Gazette opinion: Montana can’t afford high school dropouts

Gazette opinion: Montana can’t afford high school dropouts

It’s extremely difficult to be successful in life without a high school diploma.

“High school graduates are less likely to live in poverty or on public assistance, and are seven times more likely to own their own home, and less likely to be incarcerated,” according to a recent Montana Kids Count brief. Montana Kids Count research is conducted by the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research and is supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Co-authors Daphne Herling and Thale Dillon report that 82 percent of U.S. inmates are high school dropouts. They quote the Montana Department of Corrections saying that at least 80 percent of male Montana inmates and 75 percent of female inmates are high school dropouts.

In a lifetime, a 2011 Montana high school graduate can expect to earn $312 million more than a dropout, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. The Alliance estimated that if only half of the 2,252 people who dropped out of the class of 2011 (between the beginning of freshman year and the end of senior year) had graduated, they would have provided these benefits to the state:

- $21 million in increased home sales.

- $1.8 million in increased annual auto sales.

- 100 new jobs.

- $15 million increase in gross state product.

- $600,000 increase in annual state tax revenue.

Completing secondary education is a big benefit for individuals, their community and state. Diplomas also are crucial to economic development.

Montana workers whose jobs require some college or postsecondary education were more likely to stay employed through the recession. College-educated workers will continue to be in higher demand, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry reported last month. The department said that 24,100 Montana jobs lost in the recession required a high school diploma or less. The majority of those jobs have not been recovered and still won’t be by 2013, according to department projections. Thus, an oversupply of workers with no more than a high school education is expected to continue.

Meanwhile, workers for jobs that require some college or other postsecondary education will continue to be in demand. The department’s Research and Analysis Bureau reports that jobs requiring at least some college actually increased during the 2007-2010 recession, and more have been added since then.

Montana’s 82 percent high school graduation rate is better than the national average of 75 percent. But 2,200 dropouts in the class of 2011 — or any other year — is way too many. That’s why communities across the state are working on local Graduation Matters projects to keep kids in school and ensure that they get a diploma because they are ready for college or work.

Investing in education pays off for Montana.

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