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Home Publications Characteristics and education outcomes of Utah high school dropouts who re-enrolled

Characteristics and education outcomes of Utah high school dropouts who re-enrolled

by Vanessa Barrat and BethAnn Berliner

Numerous studies over the past two decades have examined the prevalence, causes, predictors, and prevention of high school dropout, but comparatively little is known about students who drop out and later re-enroll. This study contributes to an emerging body of research on re-enrollees that challenges the perception that when students drop out, they leave school for good.

This study used data from the Utah State Office of Education to follow a cohort of 41,496 students who were expected to graduate from Utah public schools in 2011 within four years of entering high school (referred to as the 2011 graduating cohort, even though some members of the cohort did not graduate that year). This report describes the extent of high school dropouts and re-enrollments statewide within this cohort; how dropout and re-enrollment rates differed over time and by demographic characteristics; how the yearly academic progress of re-enrollees before dropping out differed from that of students who graduated on time with no interruptions in schooling and that of dropouts who did not return; and the four- and six-year high school outcomes of re-enrollees who, by returning, had another chance to graduate.

About 19 percent of students in the 2011 graduating cohort dropped out, and about 22 percent of those dropouts re-enrolled by the end of 2011. More specifically, during the conventional four-year timeframe of high school (2007/08-2010/11), the number of dropouts increased each year, and students who dropped out later in high school were less likely to re-enroll.

Certain demographic characteristics were associated with having a greater likelihood of dropping out. Racial/ethnic minority students and English learner students had the highest dropout rates--more than twice those of White students and English proficient students. Re-enrollment rates by demographic characteristics showed less variation than dropout rates, but when examined together, re-enrollment and dropout rates revealed different types of enrollment interruptions. Specifically, a combination of higher than state average dropout rates and lower than state average re-enrollment rates put English learner students, Black students, and Pacific Islander students at greater risk of not graduating. In contrast, students eligible for the federal school lunch program (a proxy for low-income household status) and students with disabilities, despite having relatively high dropout rates, had re-enrollment rates above the state average, reflecting a population of students who had enrollment interruptions but did not necessarily leave school for good.

As a group, students who dropped out, including re-enrollees, had far fewer credits by the time they left school the first time--about half or less than half of the credits needed to be on track to graduate in four years, depending on the year they dropped out--than their peers who did not drop out had. On average, re-enrollees accumulated more credits before dropping out than did dropouts who did not return, but even after returning to school, most re-enrollees did not accumulate enough credits to graduate on time.

Seventy-six percent of students in the 2011 graduating cohort graduated within four years of entering high school. Among students who had dropped out and re-enrolled by 2011, 26 percent graduated on time, and 30 percent graduated by 2013--within six years of entering high school.

As part of the nationwide focus on raising graduation rates, states seek to re-engage students who have left school without a diploma. By focusing on re-enrollees, this study provides policymakers and educators with new statewide information about the prevalence, characteristics, and high school outcomes of a vulnerable student group that, if identified and successfully supported in school, could have a greater chance of graduating from high school. The following are appended: (1) Data and methodology; and (2) Frequency tables for the 2011 Utah public high school graduating cohort.

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