Don’t Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young People who Leave High School before Graduation

A Report from America’s Promise Alliance and its Center for Promise at Tufts University with support from Target
Release Date:  05/20/14

The past decade has seen impressive growth in and commitment to helping more students graduate, fueled in part by a growing body of research on barriers. What has been missing from the current research, however, is a vibrant portrait of young people’s experiences gathered and reported in a way that deepens the national conversation about why some young people are still failing to graduate despite historic advances in graduation rates.

With enthusiastic support from our partners at Target, the research team at our Center for Promise set out to discover what young people say about the experiences that lead them away from high school. We listened deeply to what leads to leaving school before graduation. Throughout the process, our goal remained the same – to hear what young people say about their lives and decisions.

As you read this report, you will notice that we avoid using the familiar term “dropout.” We made this choice for two reasons. First, we heard from young people themselves that this term does not describe their experience of leaving school. Second, most of the interview participants and survey respondents had returned to school or re-engagement programs to complete their education.

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