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Dropout prevention programs

Evidence Rating

Scientifically Supported

Health Factors

Dropout prevention programs provide at-risk students with specific supports such as mentoring, counseling, vocational or social-emotional skills training, college preparation, supplemental academic services, or case management. Such programs are frequently multi-service interventions and may include attendance monitoring, sometimes with financial rewards or sanctions. Dropout prevention programs can undertake comprehensive changes to high school environments such as restructuring schools into smaller learning communities, or offering alternative schools. Such programs can be delivered in school or community settings and can focus on individual at-risk students or on entire schools with low graduation rates (CG-TFR Education, IES WWC-Dynarski 2008). As of 2014, 9% of 25- to 29-year-old Americans did not graduate from high school (US Census-Education 2014).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased high school graduation

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced absenteeism

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that dropout prevention programs reduce dropout rates. There are many types of dropout prevention programs; most types significantly improve outcomes when well implemented (Campbell-Wilson 2011, CG-TFR Education).

Many variations of dropout prevention programs are effective. Vocational training and alternative schools have been shown to increase high school completion rates by just over 15%. Social-emotional skills training and college-oriented programming increase rates by at least 10%. Mentoring and counseling, supplemental academic services, school and class restructuring, multiservice efforts, attendance monitoring, and community service programs demonstrate increases of at least 5%, and case management efforts yield increases of 3.6% (CG-TFR Education). Dropout prevention programs may also help reduce absenteeism, especially among younger students and males; however, additional research is needed to confirm effects on absenteeism ().

Dropout prevention programs that deliver all intended intervention components and sessions planned for each student produce the best outcomes (Campbell-Wilson 2011). Programs that monitor students in caring, personalized learning environments are more effective than less intense interventions (IES WWC-Dynarski 2008). Dropout prevention programs that intervene early and address multiple risk factors also have stronger effects, although additional research is needed to inform best practices in this area ().

When implementing dropout prevention programs, schools can avoid overburdening staff by seeking community partners to provide mentors, services, and career exploration opportunities. Professional development can help teach staff new skills, integrate academic and vocational content, and address students’ problems more effectively. Researchers recommend using data to track at-risk students and selecting only the most willing adults to be student advocates (IES WWC-Dynarski 2008).

Overall, dropout prevention programs produce economic benefits to government and society, reducing productivity loss, health care costs, crime, and welfare costs. Program costs vary significantly (CG-TFR Education).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

The federal High School Graduation Initiative awards dropout prevention grants to state and local education agencies (US ED-HSGI). Colorado and Mississippi have specified Offices of Dropout Prevention within their State Departments of Education to support local implementation of dropout prevention programs (NCSL-Dropout prevention).

The What Works Clearinghouse offers best practices for implementing dropout prevention programs (IES WWC-Dynarski 2008). The National Dropout Prevention Center also shares best practices, implementation and training guides, and other resources for each of the 15 strategies identified as effective for dropout prevention (NDPC-Strategies).

Implementation Resources

CCASN - College & Career Academy Support Network (CCASN). Remaking high school.

IES WWC-Dynarski 2008 - Dynarski M, Clarke L, Cobb B, et al. Dropout prevention: A practice guide. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), US Department of Education (US ED), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), What Works Clearinghouse (WWC); 2008.

Check and Connect - University of Minnesota. Check & connect: A comprehensive student engagement intervention.

ALAS - Raise Inspired Kids. ALAS dropout prevention.

NCSL-Dropout prevention - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Dropout prevention and recovery.

NDPC-Resources - National Dropout Prevention Center/Network (NDPC) at Clemson University. Resources.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

IES WWC-Dynarski 2008 - Dynarski M, Clarke L, Cobb B, et al. Dropout prevention: A practice guide. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), US Department of Education (US ED), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), What Works Clearinghouse (WWC); 2008.

Campbell-Wilson 2011 - Wilson SJ, Tanner-Smith EE, Lipsey MW, Steinka-Fry KT, Morrison J. Dropout prevention and intervention programs: Effects on school completion and dropout among school-aged children and youth: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2011:8.

Christenson 2004* - Christenson SL, Thurlow ML. School dropouts: Prevention considerations, interventions, and challenges. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2004;13(1):36-9.

CG-TFR Education - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Task Force Recommends (TFR) Education Programs to Promote Health Equity.

Tanner-Smith 2013* - Tanner-Smith EE, Wilson SJ. A meta-analysis of the effects of dropout prevention programs on school absenteeism. Prevention Science. 2013;14(5):468–478.

Freeman 2015* - Freeman J, Simonsen B. Examining the impact of policy and practice interventions on high school dropout and school completion rates: A systematic review of the literature. Review of Educational Research. 2015;85(2):205–248.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

IES WWC-Dynarski 2008 - Dynarski M, Clarke L, Cobb B, et al. Dropout prevention: A practice guide. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), US Department of Education (US ED), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), What Works Clearinghouse (WWC); 2008.

US ED-HSGI - US Department of Education (US ED). High school graduation initiative (HSGI) also known as school dropout prevention program.

NCSL-Dropout prevention - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Dropout prevention and recovery.

NDPC-Strategies - National Dropout Prevention Center/Network (NDPC) at Clemson University. 15 effective strategies for dropout prevention.

Date Last Updated

Jul 5, 2016