Keep students in school until age 18

The state House last week gave Michigan’s high school students one less reason to fail. Lawmakers passed two bills that would raise the dropout age from 16 to 18. If this state is serious about making sure all students succeed, the state Senate and governor should do their part next to help this stronger standard become law.


Changing the dropout age would reflect the proper emphasis that Michigan should place on education. This state has been mired in a recession all by itself for most of this decade, and the lack of a better-educated workforce is partly to blame.


For generations, many Michigan students who did not finish high school took blue-collar or service jobs. Now, those jobs have been shipped overseas or simply disappeared. Without a full high school education (never mind a college degree), they lack the resources to find work easily.


How significant is Michigan’s dropout problem? For the Class of 2007 in state high schools, one of every four students who started as freshmen did not graduate, according to state figures. That is about 40,000 young people without a diploma for that year alone.


The four-year snapshot is not the whole story. Many high school students take five years to graduate or receive GEDs instead. Still, it is telling that state officials did not even fully track dropout numbers until a few years ago, instead publishing only data that showed how many students quit school as seniors. Clearly, pushing students to graduate was a low priority for too long.


Raising the dropout age would make high school education a priority. Two years ago, the state Board of Education put in tougher graduation requirements, but today students can walk away if they feel they cannot meet those expectations. Forcing students to stay in school until age 18 would force them — and educators — to get closer to the finish line of a 12th-grade education.


Skeptics say a higher dropout age causes more problems, forcing teens to sit in classrooms where they do not want to be. Perhaps, but it also gives educators two more years to break through to students before they walk away. And apathetic students do not have to disrupt general-education classrooms. Already, they receive special attention through alternative high schools or other programs.


If anything, the legislation that raises the dropout age — House bills 4030 and 4132 — does not go far enough. It allows students to drop out before age 18 if they have parental consent. Sadly, there will be parents who allow their children to drop out.


Still, these bills represent an important step toward a better-educated workforce, to make sure that so many of our state’s students do not miss out on an opportunity later because of poor decisions as teens. There is no question the Legislature should raise the dropout age from 16 to 18.