CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nearly one-fourth of West Virginia teens drop out of high school, matching the U.S. average. That's a dismal loss, both for the youths and the state. Their futures are hobbled, many doomed to failure.
Three-fourths of West Virginia prison inmates are high school dropouts, education reporter Mackenzie Mays found. About 80 percent of teens who quit school eventually wind up behind bars. Dropouts also suffer more poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, unwed pregnancy and other ills.
Former Gov. Bob Wise has crusaded against this problem as president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. He wrote:
"The nearly 1.3 million students who did not graduate from high school in 2010 will likely cost the nation over $337 billion in lost lifetime earnings. Were the nation to cut its high school dropout rate in half, those 'new' high school graduates would likely create 54,000 new jobs -- and that's just for one graduating class. As these numbers show, the best economic stimulus package is a high school diploma."
Clearly, anything that keeps teens in high school boosts not just the teens themselves, but also their families, their communities, their states and their nation.
For those who already quit, the best remedy is a general equivalency diploma. Passing a GED exam can put youths back on track to hold good jobs and perhaps someday pursue college.
Along with another ex-governor, Jeb Bush of Florida, Wise launched the Digital Learning Council to expand study-by-computer efforts. We hope this project elevates education in numerous ways, including easing the dropout dilemma.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded a major study titled "The Silent Epidemic," which warned that up to one-third of students -- especially minority males -- quit high school, with disheartening results. One report commented:
"Students who drop out of school in the United States are more likely to be unemployed, homeless, receiving welfare and incarcerated. A four-year study in San Francisco found that 94 percent of young murder victims were high school dropouts."
Many West Virginia communities have volunteer tutors who coach youths to help save them from flunking out. Former Gov. Joe Manchin awarded $2 million for two Kanawha County career offices helping both dropouts and at-risk students. A slew of other state and county programs are striving to keep kids in school.
Helping teens graduate is a win-win proposition for everyone. We hope all this work pays dividends.