In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on all states to require that students stay in school until they graduate or turn 18. It's a good start, but it doesn't go far enough, write economics professors Henry M. Levin and Cecilia E. Rouse in the New York Times. Since 1970, the US has dropped from the top spot all the way to No. 21 when it comes to high school completion. Just seven out of 10 ninth graders will graduate, and that dropout rate "imposes a heavy cost on the entire economy, not just on those who fail to obtain a diploma," they write.
Some might say that the cost of education reform and dropout prevention efforts—the most effective of which must start as early as preschool—are too high, "but in fact the costs of inaction are far greater." Reducing dropouts by half would pay for itself: The nearly 700,000 new graduates produced per year would obtain better jobs, make more money, pay more in taxes, be less likely to use public funds, and be less likely to get in trouble with the law. Ultimately, there would be "a return of $1.45 to $3.55 for every dollar of investment," depending on the strategy used. That means about $127,000 in each graduate's lifetime, almost $90 billion per successful year, and "something close to $1 trillion after 11 years. That’s real money—and a reason both liberals and conservatives should rally behind dropout prevention as an element of economic recovery."