At this point being dead last on nearly every single educational ranking system should be reason enough to get real about Nevada’s worst kept secret. But just for kicks, let me give you an overflowing fistful more:
- Jobs (aka diversifying the economy, stupid): With the third highest high school dropout rate in the nation and a low number of college-degree holders, Nevada will continue to struggle to diversify its economy with sweet, sweet high-paying jobs. (It turns out that high-paying job-holders need quality places to send their kiddos to school and high-paying-job-producers need an educated workforce from which to draw employees.)
- Stronger tax base: If we cut the national dropout rate in half, some experts estimate that it could add $90 billion to the national economy. And considering that Nevada’s graduation rate is so much higher than the national average, my guess is we’d get a nice piece of those BILLIONS. Indeed, dropouts are twice as likely to live in poverty as college graduates. Better educated communities have more financial security overall. Considering Nevada was hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis and economic downturn, cultivating a better-educated community seems like the best kind of insurance.
- Fatter paychecks: According to this fact sheet (PDF) from the Nevada Public Education Foundation, the 19,500 dropouts in Nevada in 2008 represent $5.1 billion in lost lifetime earnings. Nationally, dropouts earn about $200,000 less over a lifetime than high school graduates and about a million dollars less than college grads. I don’t know about you, but I would gladly take a million dollars more over a lifetime.
- Lower unemployment: Nevada has had one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation for several years running — recently dropping to second worst (PDF) with 8.8 percent unemployment. Hmm … we have one of the highest dropout rates in the nation and one of the highest unemployment rates? It’s like those two things are linked. Not convinced? How about this: The national unemployment rate in 2012 was four points higher (12 percent) for dropouts than high school graduates and eight points higher than those with college degrees. Likewise, more than half of all high school dropouts age of 25 and older in 2012 were unemployed.
- More preschool, more money: Evidence is racking up that not only shows a positive effect of quality preschool programs on a child’s future success — including increased high school graduation rates and lower rates of drug abuse and arrests — but research suggests it means more money in adulthood. Surprise, surprise, Nevada has the lowest rate of preschool enrollment.
- Lower incarceration rates: The incarceration rate for high school dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24 was 63 times higher than college graduates. And we already know preschool programs keep kids out of jail (see No. 5). Seriously, education seems like a better long-term strategy, and less morally bankrupt plan, to deal with costs of incarceration than charging inmates for meals and medical care.
- Fewer babies having babies (or abortions): I know some of you are looking at that and going, um, I thought this was about how education can help our community. Exactly! This is one of the simplest ways to reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has a significant impact on high school dropout rates and increased demands on safety net programs. And you guessed it, Nevada has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation! (PS: Nationally, teen pregnancies cost taxpayers $11 billion in 2008 for increased demands on safety net programs, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Meanwhile, here in Nevada in 2012, teen pregnancies cost the state $84 million, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.) Here’s how: Comprehensive sex education. It has been proven to reduce the number of unintended teen pregnancies. Reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and — POW! — you reduce the number of high school dropouts and the number of abortions. It’s like medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education is magic. Except instead of magic, it’s science, which is even better.