The Risk Factor of High School Dropouts

Social risk factors
Social risk factors are demographic variables that are associated with a higher likelihood of school difficulties and, consequently, higher dropout rates. These demographic factors include race/ethnicity, age, language-minority status, gender, family income (socioeconomic status), parents' level of education and family structure. Research shows that members of racial and ethnicity minority groups drop out at higher rates than white students, as do individuals who have a low socioeconomic status, come from a single-parent household or whose parents did not complete high school. In 2010 the dropout rates of 16- through 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and have not earned a high school credential were: 5.1% for white students, 8% for black students, 15.1% for Hispanic students, and 4.2% for Asian students.

Academic risk factors
Academic risk factors refer to the students' performance in school and are highly related to school level problems. These factors include absenteeism, grade retention, special education placement, low performance and grades, and low educational expectations. Poor academic achievement has a very strong relationship with increased likelihood of dropping out. Grade retention can increase the odds of dropping out by as much as 250 percent above those of similar students who were not retained. Students who drop out typically have a history of absenteeism, grade retention and academic trouble and are more disengaged from school life.

School structure, curriculum and size are factors influential to increased likelihood of a student experiencing academic risk factors. The school curriculum has been found to have an impact on the likelihood of a student to drop out regardless of which courses the individual was taking. Students who attended schools that offered Calculus or fewer courses below the level of Algebra 1 had a reduced risk of dropping out of school by 56%.

School size has a very strong non-linear correlation with dropout rate. A study done by Werblow found that increases in school size can be "associated with a 12% increase in average student dropout rate". However, once a school becomes very large, its size seems to have little impact on dropout rates except for its effect on other factors. Large schools, enrolling between 1,500 and 2,500 students, were found to have the largest proportion of students who dropped out, 12%. Small schools have the lowest dropout rate.

The type or structure of a school was found to be irrelevant in a study done by Lee once other factors, such as demographics and size, were accounted for. The only way school structure affected dropout rates was through teacher-student relationships. Students who attended schools with more positive student-teacher interaction were less likely to drop out. The impact of this relationship was largely determined by the type of school. In small or medium-sized public or Catholic schools, 'positive student-teacher relations led to an 86% decrease in the odds of dropping out". However, student-teacher relations had no significant impact in small or medium private schools.