Yesterday, America’s Promise Alliance and its Center for Promise at Tufts University released Don’t Call Them Dropouts. This report discusses recent research that was tasked with understanding the experiences of young people who leave high school before graduation. This report emphasizes the resilience of students in the face of experiences that interrupt and challenge their access to education.

Usually, College Parents of America doesn’t discuss reports on high school students or their high school graduation rates. However, in reviewing this report, we’ve found that many of the challenges that high school students say interrupted their education have also been known to interrupt college education.

Don’t Call Them Dropouts emphasizes the following challenges in students lives as potential education disruptors:

  • lack of support and guidance from adults,
  • incarceration,
  • death in the family,
  • heath challenges in the family,
  • gangs,
  • school safety,
  • school policies,
  • peer influences, and
  • becoming a parent.

Research concerning college students shows overlap in many of these areas. Lack of faculty support or apparent professor interest can greatly undermine student persistence in college, as well (source). Furthermore, death and health challenges in the family are known possible disruptors to college education (source). Student health experiences have also been known to cause college students to leave without graduating (source). School policies can play a crucial role in the disruption of college educations (source), as can school safety (source). Studies also show that becoming a parents (and its financial burdens) can cause college students to leave without graduating (source).

What’s fascinating is, by comparison to the above factors, how little academic performance and readiness plays in determining final high school graduation rates. This is a similar finding to the Gates Foundation/Public Agenda report that also determined that college students who leave college without graduating do not usually do so because the academics were too difficult. Rather, they do so because life events required them to spend more time or effort outside of the classroom.

In both the Gates Foundation/Public Agenda report on students who leave college before graduation and in Don’t Call Them Dropouts, balance between school work and outside forces are key. In college, first-year success is in no small way dependent on striking a proper life-schoolwork balance (which, most often, includes school, social life, paid work and family commitments). A similar vein can be seen running through this report concerning high school persistence to graduation. As said in the conclusions of Don’t Call Them Dropouts, “students who leave school before graduating are often struggling with overwhelming life circumstances that push school attendance far down their priority lists.”

High school students and college students who don’t complete their respective degrees deserve better than to be called ‘dropouts.’ Such students are not quitters; these are kids who persevere in the face of adversity, especially with a little extra help.