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Hundreds of millions of dollars.
That's how much Utah and students who dropped out of Utah's high school Class of 2010 might miss out on because those students didn't earn diplomas, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Excellent Education.
If half as many students had dropped out of Utah's Class of 2010 they could have made up to an estimated $40 million more in an average year than they likely would without a high school diploma, according to the report. They might have spent an additional $30 million a year, invested an additional $10 million a year, and, by the midpoint of their careers, purchased homes worth $153 million more than without a diploma.
Those students' additional spending and investments combined could possibly have been enough to support as many as 200 new jobs and increase the gross state product by as much as $46 million by the time they reached the midpoints of their careers.
"The best economic stimulus is a high school diploma," said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, in a press release. "From the individual student to the bank branch manager, new car salesman, or realtor, everyone wins when more students graduate from high school."
The Alliance released similar reports for each state Tuesday showing how halving the number of dropouts could impact their economies. The Alliance estimated that 8,600 students dropped out of the Class of 2010 in Utah, though the State Office of Education has pegged that number at around 3,693. The disparity is a result of differences in how graduation and dropout rates are calculated by different organizations.
The Alliance calculated its numbers using dropout counts estimated by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, based partly on 2007 graduation rates, taking ninth-graders into account. Meanwhile, the state office tracks each Utah student through high school starting in 10th grade. The state then divides the graduates in a class by the graduates plus dropouts, not counting students who transferred out of the system.
Still, experts said Tuesday, the message is the same regardless of the exact figure: students who drop out of high school do so to the financial detriment of themselves and the state.
Pam Perlich, a senior research economist at the University of Utah, hasn't examined the methodology used by the alliance to come up with its estimates. But she said the report's findings are no surprise, as those with higher levels of education generally have higher levels of economic success. She said when students drop out of school, it can sometimes lead to generations of people falling behind economically.
"There's a cumulative effect here because then those kids have kids," Perlich said. "It's not just that generation that falls behind economically, but then they'll have kids who start out behind the curve, so to speak, and then their parents won't be as able to help them with their school work. There's a potential sort of vicious cycle."
Vicki Varela, a spokeswoman for Prosperity 2020, an education project launched by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said it's crucial business leaders and public policy makers come together to help more students graduate from high school. Prosperity 2020, along with the Governor's Education Excellence Commission, has set a goal of 66 percent of Utahns earning postsecondary degrees or certificates by 2020 in order to meet future workforce needs.
The Alliance report was released the same day Vice President Joe Biden issued a call to action to meet President Barack Obama's goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. To reach that goal, the U.S. will have to increase the number of college graduates by 50 percent, and Utah will have to increase its percentage of college graduates to between 57 and 60 percent of the state population between ages 25 and 34, according to the U.S. Department of Education.