School Leaving Age

The school leaving age (also known in North America as dropout age or minimum dropout age) states the minimum age person is legally allowed to leave compulsory education (usually of the secondary kind). Most countries have their school leaving age set the same as their minimum full-time employment age, thus allowing smooth transition from education into employment, whilst a few have it set just below the age at which a person is allowed to be employed.

In contrast, there are numerous countries that have several years between their school leaving age and their legal minimum employment age, thus in some cases preventing any such transition for several years. Countries which have their employment age set below the school leaving age (mostly developing countries), risk giving children the opportunity to leave their education early to earn money for their families.

The table below states the school leaving ages in countries across the world and their respective minimum employment age, showing a comparison of how many countries have synchronised these ages.

The school leaving age varies from state to state with most having a leaving age of 16 or 17, but a handful having a leaving age of above that number. Students who complete a certain level of secondary education ("high school") may take a standardized test and be graduated from compulsory education, the General Equivalency Degree. Gifted and talented students are also generally permitted by several states to accelerate their education so as to obtain a diploma prior to attaining the leaving age. Young people may seek employment at 14 in many states but, in practice, most employers seek someone slightly older.

The raising of school leaving age (often shortened to ROSLA) is an act brought into force when the legal age a child is allowed to leave compulsory education increases. In most countries, the school leaving age reflects when young people are seen to be mature enough within their society, but not necessarily when they are old enough to be regarded as an adult.

There are several reasons why a Government may wish to raise the school leaving age. It may be due to a lack of skilled labour in the country, or it may simply be a way of reducing a country's unemployment figures.

In the United States, most states allow for the ability to drop out without parental consent at the age of 16. Those states which have raised their minimum dropout ages above 16 usually provide for exceptions of parental consent at ages 16 and 17. Further, most states have clauses allowing for graduation by gifted and talented students who manage to accelerate all academic requirements to obtain a diploma early.

States that have raised their minimum dropout age to 18
    New Hampshire (Governor John Lynch signed SB1B into law in June 2007, amending the stipulation of RSA 193:1, which was passed in 1903)
    South Dakota
    District of Columbia
    New Mexico

States that have raised their minimum dropout age to 17
    South Carolina
    West Virginia

States debating raising the minimum dropout age above 16
    Kentucky (Legislation proposing a dropout age of 18 has been filed in the 2011 General Assembly)
    North Carolina
    Minnesota (a bill for the raising of the compulsory attendance age to 18 that was passed by the state legislature in May 2008 was vetoed by Governor Tim Pawlenty)

The National Education Association, the main teachers' union in the United States, advocates requiring students to earn a high school diploma or stay in school until age 21.