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News Update

Public Media Take on the Dropout Crisis

America’s dropout crisis is so severe that one in four students does not finish high school. Unless graduation rates increase, nearly 12 million students will likely drop out over the next decade, with an estimated national loss of $1.5 trillion in lost wages and increased social costs due to crime and health care, according to a 2012 report “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic.”

Public media outlets are working to combat these numbers with an initiative called American Graduate, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Through shows like Frontline and PBS NewsHour and national events like last September’s American Graduate Day, the media are raising awareness and calling for community action.

The American Graduate initiative, which began in September 2011, will help impact dropout rates in communities nationwide “by providing stories of success and best practices, so they can hopefully be replicated in other areas where schools and communities are struggling with high dropout rates,” says Debra Sanchez, CPB’s senior vice president of education and children’s content operations. “It’s also about explaining to citizens what the crisis means and what they can do to help.”

It seems to be working, she adds. For example, a September Frontline episode featured Sharpstown High of the Houston Independent School District, labeled by a Johns Hopkins study as a notorious “dropout factory” where at least 40 percent of freshmen don’t graduate. After the broadcast, the school received an “enormous” number of calls from the community, asking how they can support struggling students. “It really motivated people to want to help,” Sanchez says.

CPB is conducting an assessment, out early next year, to measure the impact of the initiative. It will address the different factors causing pressure on individual school systems or parents—like budgets and poverty rates—and how local stations are becoming part of the solution.

To learn more about the dropout crisis and the American Graduate initiative, visit