Sometimes people just need the facts to help them wake up to some blatant truths. Rather than wasting time and dollars on dealing with the consequences of our problems, all of our institutions need to be strikingly more proactive and deal with the cause. In doing so they can save millions of dollars and thousands of lives.

As Jack Webb on the old radio/television program, "Dragnet," would say, “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.” Here are some facts for you.

Economics

Statistics suggest that a lack of high school completion has a significant negative impact not only on individuals but on communities as well. Americans without a diploma pay about half as much in federal and state income taxes every year as those who have graduated.

It’s estimated that the loss of economic opportunities, fiscal costs from unrealized tax revenues, and additional public costs accrued from students who don’t complete high school totals $258,240 per person over a lifetime, with a $755,900 cost to society. The combined income and tax losses of a single group of 18-year-old dropouts over their lifetime is astonishing — likely about $192 billion, or 1.6% of GDP. The fact: high school dropouts cost communities money—a lot of money. High school graduates make more money for themselves and communities.

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Income

When talking to students I never like to emphasize that the reason to continue education is because they will earn more money, but, the truth is, they will. For every year of high school that a student completes, their lifetime wealth increases by 15%. In particular, male and female high school graduates earn $322,000 more over a lifetime compared to $244,000 for high school dropouts. The fact: a high school diploma means more money.

Incarceration

Nationally, 68% of all males in prison do not have a high school diploma. The average cost per inmate in Minnesota is $41,000 per year. The fact: A person without a high school diploma is more likely to end up behind bars and costs millions of dollars.

Health and longevity

I tell students, if you want to live a long and productive life, get your high school diploma and continue learning. Why? Students who drop out of high school may experience poor health and premature death. They also more frequently report suffering from at least one chronic health condition—asthma, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, hepatitis, or stomach ulcers—than graduates.

Facts don’t lie. For example, the mortality rate (deaths per 100,000) among American males without a high school diploma between 25- and 64-year-olds is 655.2. For American males with high school diplomas, the mortality rate is 600.9. While for males with a college education or higher, it is 238.9.

The growing percentage of Americans in poor health intensifies demands on the health care system and fuels the rising costs of health care. The fact: a high school diploma means a person will live longer and have better health.

Poverty

In 2020, about 4% of people with a bachelor's degree or higher were living below the poverty line in the United States. This is far below the poverty rate of those without a high school diploma which was 24.7% in 2020. By the way, nearly a quarter of the children in Beltrami County live in poverty—twice the state rate, which is 24.1%. The fact: a high school diploma means a person is much less likely to live in poverty.

Voting

If I were a politician I would eagerly and with gusto go after the people with a high school or college diploma. Why? President Biden won about 60% of college-educated voters in 2020. This was a significant voting bloc. Politicians, for either party, should be focusing on people with an “education” because they are the ones that are voting and encourage everyone else to get their high school diploma. The fact: A person with a high school diploma is more likely to vote.

Substance abuse

A report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that high school dropouts are more likely than those who receive their diploma to abuse many addictive substances, including: cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. SAMHSA found this data from a study titled "Substance Use Among 12th Grade Aged Youths by Dropout Status" from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

The findings point to a huge public health problem. The SAMHSA study analyzed the behavior of youth ranging in age from 16 to 18 years old. They found that those no longer in school during this time period in their life were far more likely to have used drugs within the last 30 days. Drug use and dropout rates have a strong correlation as we notice the rates for illicit drug use among dropouts were much larger than their classroom-bound counterparts.

SAMHSA reported that roughly 31% of dropouts were currently using illicit substances while just about 18% of those in school were engaging in this behavior. The fact: A person with a high school diploma is much less likely to use drugs.

What does this all mean?

Here’s the truth. Unless communities wake up and collectively do something about helping our students graduate on time or shortly after, especially here in Beltrami County, more people will continue to be incarcerated, more people will continue to die at an earlier age, our economic system will continue to be challenged year after year, and more people will continue to live in poverty.

And, perhaps, more important than any other fact, more young people will continue to experiment with illicit drugs. We can’t continually put bandaids on problems and waste millions of dollars and lives when there is one overriding fact—with a 100% graduation rate our problems will significantly shrink. Let’s talk about how to do it.

Riddle: Why is Dracula so unpopular? (Answer: Because he is a pain in the neck. I am sure I’ve become a pain in the neck for my continuous harping about graduation rates but the benefits are so great I find it painful to stop.)

100%

Thanks to B & M Supply in Clearbrook and War Ready Fight Shop in Bemidji for being the latest to support 100% graduation rates.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.