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Dropout Numbers Cut in Half Since 2005: Here’s a Closer Look

Last year, 9,277 students dropped out of school in Colorado. That’s down from 2017-2018 when 10,180 students left school early. In some ways, that’s 933 more students who stayed in school and have a better chance at obtaining post-secondary education, meaningful employment, better health care and less interaction with the court system. This is truly a great thing.

We’re not sure anyone can point to one simple thing. Why are there so many less students dropping out this year? Yet it’s apparent the hard work and systemic innovation that has slowly been transforming our schools is working. Students have many more school options than they did 10 years ago. Schools offer greater flexibility. There are even a handful of amazing nonprofits which support youth in staying or returning to school! All of this took time and effort to build and sustain. And it keeps getting better.

Yet despite this amazing accomplishment, there are still trends that appear year after year and suggest the work is not finished. To simplify, we can divide these trends into two different areas. One is the demographic question while the other appears to be a resource question. The demographic question shows us, essentially, that while the numbers go down, student demographics look the same.

  • Males still drop out more than females. 5,517 compared to 3,760 or roughly 60 percent. 10 years ago (2009-2010 school year) that number was 7,248 males to 5,899 females or roughly 55 percent. While there are some differences nationally and even historically, males have consistently dropped out more than females in Colorado. School related reasons (absences, trouble at school, questions of relevance) tend be fairly equally distributed. The difference in reasons comes down to young women leaving because of pregnancy or other family related reasons, while young men often cite having to work or conflicts with work schedules as the reasons why.
  • Black, Hispanic and Native American students continue to be over-represented in those dropping out, while White and Asian students continue to be under-represented. For example, Black, Hispanic and Native American students made up 40 percent of the dropout cohort population last year—all students in the 7th through the 12th grade—but were 63 percent of the students who had dropped out. This, of course, suggests deep and entrenched social challenges that go far beyond education. Suffice it to say, not finishing high school diminishes post-secondary opportunities where there is also a racial gap.

The second area, which is related to resources, suggests that the number of students in areas of high need is staying the same. That is, the number of students in “Instructional Program Types”, such as students with disabilities and students experiencing homelessness, has not significantly changed.

For example, the number of students identified as economically disadvantaged in the 2009-2010 school year was 135,038. Of those students, 4,643 dropped out, making the rate for that group 3.6 percent (4,643/135,038). For this last school year, a total of 173,880 students were identified as economically disadvantaged, while 4,826 of those students dropped out, making the rate 2.8 percent.

This often gets presented positively since the rate went down. We are actually doing better in this category. Yet the challenge here is that 4,826 students (regardless of the rate) left school and are living in serious and chronic poverty. Whatever the rate, this still requires the same amount of resources and support as it did in 2010—if not more considering the cost of living.

For us, it’s clearly a resource question. The additional resources added to the school system are going towards serving new students. It’s not necessarily carrying over to new programming and supports.

Despite the ongoing challenges, it is worth pausing and recognizing the amazing achievement here. The number of those dropping out has dipped below 10,000. To see that number so low for the first time is cause for celebration, especially since there were over 18,000 students dropping out annually when CYC started in 2005. Yet at the same time, and as we continue to make these gains, the question of access and availability recedes, while the question of equity rises.

CYC Administrator

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