Minnesota law currently allows teenagers to drop out of school at the age of 16. That means a student of sophomore or junior status can quit school without parental consent or the school’s approval. Such students are statistically linked to high poverty, increased crime and reliance on government assistance.
Two Minnesota senators are trying to change that by introducing legislation that would raise the drop-out age to 18, following states like Wisconsin and South Dakota, which recently passed similar bills.
The law applies to a bygone era when young adults had to leave school in times of economic downturn to support their families. Young adults were able make a life for themselves in trade or factory work without a high school diploma or college education.
Conversely, in our increasingly complex and technology-based economy, a high school degree is an absolute minimum requirement for most jobs. And, as many college graduates know, even a bachelor’s degree has limitations.
A high school dropout earns about $10,000 less per year than a high school graduate, which translates to a loss for Minnesota. The 5,000 students who dropped out of Minnesota high schools last year are expected to cost the state almost $3.9 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetimes. This doesn’t include the costs of crime, incarceration and social assistance that are closely related to individuals with low education levels.
Lawmakers have snuffed legislation like this before, worried that forcing kids to stay in school would be disruptive and expensive. And indeed, students who don’t prosper in traditional high schools can pose distractions to those who do. But it is the state’s duty to continue to provide and enhance vocational and alternative schools so that troubled teens don’t make life-changing decisions at 16 that will hamper their futures and burden the state down the road.