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Financial costs of not graduating run high
Failure To Walk

After Austin manicurist Jaye Beck puts the final gloss on the nails of her last client for the day, she pulls out her financial bookkeeping material and works briefly before heading home. The 50-year-old mother of three never attended college, but that wasn't the case when it came to her three kids.

"It was real important that they went," Beck said.

Beck had her first child at age 18 and managed a daycare in her home for the next six years.

"Because I didn't have an education, I wasn't in a position to make money," she said. "Had I gone to school, I would have had a better income right off the bat."

Staggering statistics

About 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs of the future will require some college education or training, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. College graduates in the U.S. earn nearly twice as much as workers with just a high school diploma, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international organization that examines democratic and free-market policies.

The economic penalties for not attending or completing college are more severe in the United States than they are in almost any other OECD country, according to the organization's 2006 edition of Education at a Glance. Earnings of a 35-year-old without a college education in the U.S. are only 65 percent of what someone who graduated from college earns, according to OECD.

Some 44 percent of those without a college education in the U.S. have low incomes, which is a higher proportion than all other countries except Denmark, creating a continual cycle of decreased earnings, according to OECD.

"Low-income families in general find it difficult to make the investment in higher education," said John Moder, vice president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).

Texas troubles

Understanding college attendance trends in Texas begins with knowing about high school dropout rates.

Almost 1.3 million students did not graduate from U.S. high schools in 2004, costing the nation more than $325 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetimes, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocacy group working to improve college attendance rates for at-risk students.

More than 81 percent of Texas prison inmates are dropouts, and 56 percent of needy families receiving government assistance report a family member has dropped out of school, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

Rates of high-risk behaviors, such as teen pregnancy, delinquency, substance abuse and crime, are also significantly higher among dropouts, according to Editorial Projects in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization.

In 2004-05, the dropout rate of grades nine through 12 in Texas public schools was 0.7 percent for whites and 2 percent for Hispanics, according to TEA, which said the total number of dropouts in 2004-05 was about 17,000 students.

The 2003 Texas Legislature responded to concerns from children's advocacy organizations, members of the Texas Legislature and state agencies about TEA's dropout methodology by passing Senate Bill 186, which requires TEA to use the National Center for Education Statistics' (NCES) definitions and methods to calculate dropout rates beginning in 2005-06.

The Cost of Underpaying Texas Teachers, a December 2004 special report by the Comptroller's office, estimated 45,000 to 50,000 students drop out of Texas public schools each year, a significantly higher number than TEA's estimate and one that is more in line with NCES' report of 46,973 Texas high school students who dropped out during the 2000-01 school year. At current rates, the report said 10 years' worth of dropouts will cost Texas $114 billion in long-term economic output, and 20 years will cost the state's economy $228 billion.

The Alliance for Excellent Education said President Bush's 2002 No Child Left Behind Act mostly focuses on younger students, but it's just as important to reach out to high school dropouts. Moder agreed.

"The high school completion rate in Texas need not drop if, as a state, we can address the challenges and barriers to Hispanic educational success," Moder said. "Studies indicate family and individual commitment to the value of education, but economic pressures and deficiencies in preparation are challenges that still need attention."

With a growing Hispanic population in Texas--a 2006 report by state demographer Steve Murdock predicted that by 2040, Hispanics will comprise 59.2 percent of Texas' population--the need to improve Hispanic completion rates is a mounting challenge to educators.

"The strong family commitment and work ethic encourages young Hispanics to enter the work force early, sometimes at the expense of their education, in order to contribute to their families' immediate economic needs," Moder said. "More financial aid is absolutely critical if we are going to improve Hispanic college-going rates."

Some solutions

In July 2006, TEA announced Texas was one of four states to receive a $2.5 million federal grant to help meet the needs of students at risk of dropping out.

Moder also said that, to date, more than $750 million in federal funding has been given to U.S. Hispanic-serving institutions to build their capacity for quality Hispanic education.

"Given that this set of 260 or so colleges and universities continues to receive only half the federal investment per student that all of higher education does, we still have a long way to go," Moder said., a Web site that provides information on how to prepare, apply and pay for college, alerts visitors that $4 billion is available every year to help Texans attend college.

"I was limited because I didn't have an education," said Austin manicurist Jaye Beck. "You have more opportunities if you go to college."

Laura Zvonek

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