National Dropout Numbers: Three Million or 11 Million? It Depends on Whom You Ask

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High school dropouts have been a national concern for decades and there have been lots of studies on why teens drop out and how to keep them in school.

Now, researchers are debating how many teens have actually dropped out and the numbers vary wildly, from 3 million to a whopping 11 million teens.

As reported last month, the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics released a report in December documenting that about 3 million 16 to 24-year-olds were not in high school and did not have a high school diploma. The Center did not include dropouts with a GED or dropouts who were institutionalized.

Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies used the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and estimates a much higher number: 6.2 million. This number includes young people with GED’s and those who didn’t graduate because they went to prison.

Whether to include GED holders has been an ideological debate among researchers for many years, Youth Today points out. also reported about the problem of dropout factories, a term coined by Johns Hopkins University which describes high schools where fewer than 60 percent of freshman actually graduate.

MDC Inc., a nonprofit in North Carolina, estimates an even higher number: 11 million dropouts nationwide. MDC’s report, called Disconnected Youth in the Research Triangle Region: An Ominous Problem Hidden in Plain Sight, focused on the South, combined Census data with community interviews and extrapolated their results.

So, how many kids have dropped out of school across the nation? There are so many different definitions and so many ways to count them that nobody knows for sure.

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