Higher grad rate could help reduce crime costs

CHARLESTON – A 5 percent increase in the high school graduation rate among males in West Virginia could save $100 million each year in crime-related costs as well as boost the state’s economy, according to a national policy group.

The study by the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Excellent Education ties the dropout rate among males with an increase in the crime rate.

While dropping out of high school doesn’t automatically result in a life of crime, dropouts are far more likely than high school graduates to be arrested or incarcerated, said the alliance’s president, former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise.

The study found that it costs $12,643 to educate a student and $28,323 to incarcerate an inmate.

“The nation needs to focus dollars and efforts on reforming school climates to keep students engaged in ways that will lead them toward college and a career and away from crime and prison,” Wise said. “The school-to-prison pipeline starts and ends with schools.”

The study cited federal data that shows 56 percent of federal inmates, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons and 69 percent of inmates in local jails did not complete high school.

Nationally, increased graduate rates among males would prompt a decrease of 60,000 assaults, 37,000 larcenies, 31,000 motor vehicle thefts and 1,300 murders, the study said.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, West Virginia’s graduation rate was about 78 percent in 2010. The dropout rate for all male students was 4.4 percent, compared to 3.6 percent for female students.

The study said West Virginia’s economy would receive a boost of about $5.7 million annually by a higher male graduation rate.

Last year the state Department of Education approved a list of schools in nine counties to receive Dropout Prevention Innovation Zone grants for after-school, community outreach and other programs.

A study released last year also found the number of West Virginia high schools considered “dropout factories” was halved between 2002 and 2010, and the number of students attending such schools also fell during the period.

The report released by the children’s advocacy group America’s Promise Alliance defined dropout factories as schools that fail to graduate more than 60 percent of students on time.