ISU continues to aid dropout prevention

Of the 2010 high school graduating class in Indiana, 12 percent, or more than 10,000 students, left high school without a diploma. Community groups from across the state met recently to continue to combat those statistics one child and one school at a time.

The average graduation rate in the United States was 73.4 percent in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Indiana, however, had a graduation rate of 73.3 percent and was ranked 32nd in the nation for percentage of graduates.

Since 2009, State Farm and Indiana State University have worked together to sponsor leadership summits for committees, formed in counties across the state, of concerned residents working in partnership with schools.

"The county team is seen as a support for what is going on at the school," said Tonya Balch, assistant professor of school counseling in ISU's Bayh College of Education. The teams are made up of business and non-profit leaders in the community all working toward helping children finishing their educations.

About 650 people attended the 2011 Indiana Dropout Prevention Leadership Summit in Indianapolis at the end of September. Since the first summit, held in 2009, county teams, consisting of business and community members, have worked to keep students from dropping out.

"Some teams are active and doing wonderful things," Balch said. "Some haven't really started."

During the 2011 summit, team members attended informational sessions, planned ways to intercede in their schools and heard from keynote speakers. The summit also provided professional development credit free of charge for educators.

"It's very challenging for educators to attend professional development because of limited funding in K-12," Balch said. Grants totaling $70,000 from State Farm made that possible.

One of the summit's goals is to keep people thinking about dropout prevention.

"At the summits, attention is given to rural areas because the dropout rate is high there as well," Balch said. "It is a state-wide problem, not a big-city problem."

Indiana residents should be concerned about children who do not finish high school for several reasons, according to Balch.

"Our children are our future," she said. "The students who are not getting a high school education will have a very challenging future."

Years ago, people could find jobs without a high school diploma, but now most employers want employees to have a high school diploma and some type of post-secondary education, Balch said.

Dropouts are almost twice as likely to be unemployed than high school graduates and three times as likely to be unemployed than college graduates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In a lifetime, high school dropouts earn about $260,000 less than high school graduates and $1 million less than college graduates.

But there's also a cost born by the community and state as well.

"It places a burden on the community financially in what dropouts are not contributing and what the community spends on services," Balch said.

Dropouts are more than eight times as likely to be in jail than high school graduates and 75 percent of state prison inmates did not complete high school. Dropouts require greater public expenditures in welfare payments, housing assistance, social services and remediation, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. The alliance also stated that Indiana could have saved an estimated $284 million in lifetime healthcare costs, if the entire class of 2006 had graduated.

Indiana State, with funds provided by State Farm, oversees the website, which has information from the summit as well as provides a social media forum to connect community organization members across the state.

"Connecting with other county teams can be challenging if you're in a remote area, but we hope the website helps," Balch said.

Contact: Tonya Balch, Indiana State University, assistant professor of school counseling, at 812-237-3459 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or