While the nation’s high school drop out rate has been steadily declining, young students who face tough times, such as by having a child, becoming homeless or struggling academically, are still at much higher risk of dropping out. Every year, says the America’s Promise Alliance, 485,000 young Americans leave school.
But whether a student drops out – and drops out for good – might depend on this key factor: whether the adults around them can be counted on to help them cope with adversity.
A new study by the Center for Promise, a project of the America’s Promise Alliance, finds that having “adverse life experiences” can dramatically up the odds that a student will leave school. Among the events most strongly correlated with dropping out: being expelled or suspended; giving birth or fathering a child; having friends who drop out; suffering from a mental health concern, such as depression or anxiety; falling behind academically; becoming homeless or moving homes.
Nevertheless, students who faced these circumstances were more likely to stay in school if the adults in their lives provided strong social support. This includes not just emotional support, but information, coaching, and what the study calls “instrumental” supports – “tangible resources or services such as providing a bus pass, babysitting an infant so a parent can attend school, introducing a young person to a potential employer or taking a young person to visit a college campus.” According to the report, getting help from an “out of school, non-parent adult” could lower the risk of dropout by as much as 15 percent.
Unfortunately, far too few students at risk of dropping out have access to this level of help. “Those who experience high levels of adversity also experience low levels of support,” said Jonathan Zaff, Executive Director of the Center for Promise and the report’s lead author. “It’s a double whammy.”