The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that if the 1.3 million high school dropouts from the Class of 2010 had earned their diplomas instead of dropping out, the U.S. economy would have seen an additional $337 billion in wages over these students' lifetimes. And that's only for one year-the country can expect to lose well over $300 billion in potential earnings next year as well, due to dropouts from the Class of 2011. If this annual pattern is allowed to continue, 13 million students will drop out of school during the next decade at a cost to the nation of more than $3 trillion.
Why is this an issue now? As we all know, in the past many students didn't finish school and still went on to do well in life. However, those days are gone. In today’s global, technology-driven economy, education is the main currency. For example, by 2018, over 60 percent of jobs will require some education beyond high school. However, recent projections have estimated we will fall far short of meeting this demand if we continue with our current high school and postsecondary graduation rates.
In addition, today's economy is much more global. Whereas past generations of Americans only had to compete for jobs with students from Boston or Birmingham, today's students compete with students from Bangalore and Bangkok. The rapidly growing markets of the past quarter century have created a booming global economy and very real international competition. And, based on the most recent international data, American students are already coming up short. In fact, nearly every international assessment shows that American students typically fall short of their counterparts in other countries. Thirty years ago, the United States was the world leader in educational attainment, but the United States has fallen to 18th of 26 industrialized countries in the proportion of students who graduate from high school. The United States has remained similarly stagnant in the attainment of higher education degrees; the U.S. is now 14th out of 26 industrialized nations in the proportion of adults with college degrees. American students also lag behind their international peers in student achievement. American fifteen-year-olds rank 14th of 34 OECD countries in reading literacy, 17th of 34 countries in science, and 25th of 34 countries in mathematics literacy.
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