The high cost of high school dropouts

OK, parents, you’re going to want to show this to your kids.

If your child drops out of high school, they can expect to make around $20,000 a year as an adult in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. If they stay in school, graduate and head off to Pensacola State College to earn a two-year associate degree, they can expect to make $51,000 a year.

That’s a $31,000 difference.

Now if they decide to head over to the University of West Florida to work toward a four-year bachelor’s degree, they’ll probably end up making $56,500 a year in Escambia and Santa Rosa. If they decide to head down to South Florida to find a job, that bachelor’s degree will probably fetch a $64,000-a-year job.

That’s a $44,000 difference. Now we’re talking some real money.

Earlier this week, Jennifer Allen McFarren, a community development representative with Gulf Power, shared a chart that was put together by the Florida College Access Network. The chart shows annual median earnings of people by their educational attainment.

If you’re looking for evidence that a high school and college education pays off, then here you go.

Annual median earnings by education attainment-2013

The high school graduation rate is one of 16 benchmark metrics that the Studer Community Institute measures in the Pensacola Metro Dashboard. Developed with the University of West Florida, the dashboard is a snapshot of the educational, economic and social well-being of the community.

High school graduation is widely valued because it usually leads to higher earnings for individuals, and also because studies show that communities with more-educated citizens have greater productivity and economic growth.

This is an important issue for our community because one thing that holds back Escambia County is our high school graduation rate.

Right now, it’s at 66 percent. In Santa Rosa, however, it’s 82 percent, which is better than the state graduation rate of 76 percent and the national rate of 81 percent.

Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and his staff have made the high school graduation rate a top priority in the district. But one thing that frustrates Thomas, as well as high school principals, is that many students don’t see the value of an education.

“Parents have to sign off when their child drops out of school,” said Thomas. “I try to talk them out of it. But I’ve had parents say, ‘Look at me, I’m 55 years old, and I never learned how to read, and I turned out OK.’ ”

Andrea Krieger, who was an educator before she became CEO of the Escambia County United Way, says she hears the same thing.

“One of the things I see is that the kids don’t see this as an issue because their parents don’t see it as an issue, because their grandparents didn’t see it as an issue, and if it wasn’t important for your grandparent to have a high school education or for your parents to have a high school education, then why would it be important for you?” said Krieger.

For most parents, however, their children’s education is a priority.

So the next time your child starts to complain about school and not wanting to go to school, just whip out this chart and tell them how much money they stand to lose if they don’t get a good education.

Of course, they won’t listen to you. But maybe someday they will. Or when they’re 30 years old and try to hit you up for loan, at least you can whip out this chart and say, “I told you so.”