Journal Issue: Transition to Adulthood Volume 20 Number 1 Spring 2010
Young people who drop out of high school are a diverse group. Some will continue their education and get back on track, but many others, including a large share of dropouts from low-income families, will find it extremely hard to make a successful transition to adulthood in a labor market that offers fewer and fewer opportunities for workers with no postsecondary training or education.
The nation's schools, from preschool to high school, place a strong and appropriate emphasis on prevention-oriented programs and policies to keep students on track, but many thousands of youth nevertheless drop out every year, and the human and fiscal costs of neglecting them would be enormous. Many young people who leave school attempt to reengage as they mature, and both rigorous research and practitioner wisdom suggest that many second-chance programs are worthy of investment and expansion.
At the same time, much remains to be learned. It is important to keep assessing and strengthening existing programs, for example, by building stronger links to employers. It is also necessary to develop multiple pathways for youth who drop out. Some young dropouts have the interest and aptitude to move into academic postsecondary programs; others would do better in occupationally oriented programs; and still others need special approaches tailored to youth with very low levels of basic skills. Many young people at all skill levels might benefit from opportunities for paid work experience. Finally, it is critical to identify and disseminate lessons on how best to reengage the most disconnected young people, many of whom will need to be reached through public systems like juvenile and criminal justice or child support enforcement.