Recent concern about dropouts has come not from an increase in the dropout rate, but from the growing need for skilled, educated workers. As the number of children “at risk” for educational failure increases, educators are shifting their focus from trying to figure out what's wrong with the dropouts to analyzing what's wrong with the nation's public schools.
Just a few generations ago, it was not uncommon for Americans to drop out of school to work and support a family, and many built prosperous careers after doing so. Industrialists Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford, financier Jay Gould and composer George Gershwin are among those without a high-school diploma who went on to fame and fortune. Sometimes even today the right mix of pluck, luck and special talents or skills can compensate for the lack of formal education. But in spite of today's tight labor market, where there are more entry-level jobs than there are people to fill them,high-school dropouts are finding it increasingly difficult to compete. Unemployment rates for male dropouts are about twice as high as those for male high-school graduates.
The employment prospects for high-school dropouts are not likely to improve even as the pool of young workers shrinks further. That's because a growing proportion of jobs require higher levels of skills than in the past. Of all the new jobs that will be created over the remainder of the century, more than half will require some education beyond high school, and almost a third will be filled by college graduates, according to a study by the Hudson Institute, a nonprofit policy research organization based in Indianapolis, Ind.Today, only 42 percent of jobs require some education beyond high school, and only 22 percent require a college degree.