Eighteen is the new 16. A proposal recently introduced in the state legislature calls for the high school dropout age in Michigan to be raised from 16 to 18 years old, one of the state’s newest techniques for improving its education system. Motivated by a weak graduation rate and an even weaker economy, the bill aims to encourage students to earn their diplomas. Faced with failing schools and grim career prospects, though, students often deem dropping out the wiser decision, an issue that can only be rectified by getting to the root of the problem. If the state wants to keep students in school, then it needs to ensure that its compulsory education is worth the extra two years.In her State of the State address last month, Gov. Jennifer Granholm estimated that as much as a quarter of high school students in Michigan is at risk of quitting before graduation, a decision that lessens the likelihood of making a sufficient living. Considering that studies indicate between 10 and 25 percent of the state’s high school students drop out, that means probable financial instability for a significant portion of the population. If the legislature raises the dropout age, Michigan will join the 27 other states that have combated this issue by mandating attendance until a student turns 17 or 18.
Hypothetically, raising the dropout age could be advantageous to students, schools and the state. It could ensure that students enjoy the opportunities available to high school graduates, improving their chances of becoming successful. It could strengthen schools, offering more financial stability based on the per-pupil system of funding allotment. And on an even broader scale, it could foster a better-educated workforce.
Unfortunately, that hypothetical doesn’t apply to Michigan. Even the Democrats who proposed this change concede that just raising the dropout age isn’t the answer to the state’s education troubles – Michigan’s schools are just too weak. Problems like a lack of emphasis on career training plague the system, making the legislature’s efforts to keep teenagers in school incredibly premature.
What the state has failed to acknowledge is that, if the law passes, there would still be no incentive for students other than the law itself to stay in school the extra two years. For instance, without placing sufficient importance on early education, students do not learn to enjoy learning, which can affect the rest of their lives. Furthermore, failing to address the economic issues that motivate students to drop out of school is entirely counterproductive to the legislature’s current intentions. The attention that should be paid to the fundamental reasons why so many Michigan students drop out of high school would be misdirected, focused instead on enforcement of the dropout age.
No matter how many times or how emphatically Granholm claims to favor a knowledge-based economy, she and the legislature have yet to demonstrate it. Deciding to take funding from higher education to cover the state’s budgetary follies or opting to raise the dropout age rather than addressing the real issues surrounding Michigan’s graduation rate are not indications of a commitment to education. They are signs that the state is just avoiding the problem.