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Health Equity: High School Completion Programs

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What the Task Force Found

About The Systematic Review

This Task Force finding is based on evidence from a meta-analysis published in 2011 (Wilson et al., search period 1985-2010/2011). An updated search for studies published between 2010 and August 2012 identified 10 additional studies, which had results consistent with those from the meta-analysis. The systematic review was conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice, and policy related to the use of educational interventions for the promotion of health equity.

Context

High school completion is an established predictor of long-term health. In the U.S., people with a high school education can expect to live about 7 years longer than people without one.

The proportions of students who complete high school varies markedly by race and ethnicity. In 2010, 83.0% of whites, 66.1% of blacks, 71.4% of Hispanics, 93.5% of Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 69.1% of American Indian/Alaska Natives completed high school.

High school completion rates are also associated with family income, and those from the lowest quartile are the least likely to have completed their education.

Summary of Results

Overall Effectiveness

  • High-risk student populations exposed to high school completion programs were more likely to complete high school when compared with control groups.
    • Wilson et al. found a median percentage point increase of 8.5 (range: 3.6 to 15.9; 317 study arms) in the rate of high school completion by students in intervention programs compared with students in the control conditions.
    • Evidence from the updated search showed a median percentage point increase of 6.5 (range: -11.4 to 9.5; 10 studies)
  • Pregnant or parent student populations exposed to an intervention were more likely to complete high school when compared with control groups.
    • Wilson et al. found a median percentage point increase of 11.7 (range: 11.0 to 12.4; 51 study arms) in the rate of high school completion by students in intervention programs compared with students in the control conditions.
    • The updated search did not find studies specific to this population

Types of High School Completion Programs

Eleven different types of high school completion programs were included in this review. They are listed below in approximate order of effectiveness. Economic evidence is presented below in a separate section.

Vocational Training

Program Description: Vocational training prepares students for specific occupations. In addition to participating in the vocational curriculum, students commonly take a portion of the regular academic curriculum, participate in academic remediation, and learn life skills. Training may include occupational internships outside of school settings. Programs also may include training-related support services (such as transportation assistance and childcare), and assistance with job placement.

Effectiveness: Students who received vocational training had high school completion rates that were, on average, 15.9 percentage points greater than those in comparison populations (86.2% vs. 70.3%, respectively; 51 study arms).

Alternative Schooling

Program Description: Alternative schools are designed to provide educational and other services to students whose needs are not adequately addressed in traditional schools. Alternative schools often include students who have been expelled from regular schools and students who have quit school or seem likely to do so, including students who are pregnant or have children. Alternative schools are commonly situated away from traditional high schools and offer small classes and intense remediation for problems students encountered in regular schooling. They are often established in low-income communities, and may offer social services, such as childcare and support groups to address challenging issues. Teachers in alternative schools may act as mentors as well as instructors.

Effectiveness: Students who attended alternative schools had high school completion rates that were, on average, 15.5 percentage points greater than those in comparison populations (69.3% vs. 53.8% respectively; 30 study arms).

Social-Emotional Skills Training

The type of social-emotional skills training used in high school completion programs most commonly aims to increase emotional self-awareness and regulation, improve self-esteem and attitudes about school, or prevent drug use. One approach to social-emotional skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy, is used to address counterproductive emotions, behaviors, and cognitive processes. It commonly combines stress management or relaxation techniques, cognitive exploration (including correction of inaccurate cognitions), and the reframing of counterproductive cognitions and behaviors.

Some programs train students who are pregnant or have children to be able to teach cognitive–behavioral management to their children.

Effectiveness: Students who received social-emotional skills training had high school completion rates that were, on average, 13.7 percentage points greater than those in comparison populations (86.0% vs. 72.3%, respectively; 12 study arms).

College-Oriented Programming

These programs help high school students prepare for college by providing remedial courses, college guidance counseling to help with school selection and application, assistance with scholarship applications, and in some cases actual scholarships.

Effectiveness: Students who participated in college-oriented programs had high school completion rates that were, on average, 10.4 percentage points greater than those in comparison populations (91.3% vs. 80.9%, respectively; 25 study arms).

Mentoring and Counseling

These programs assign trained adult mentors or counselors who help students focus on their school work or career objectives and deal with personal issues. Mentors and counselors are expected to work within the context and framework of students' home and community environments. They work closely with students, encouraging respect and personal growth as students progress toward high school completion and, in some cases, college. Mentors are most often volunteers who work with students throughout high school to help them graduate and get accepted to college. Some programs that help students prepare for college also provide financial support for college.

Effectiveness: Students who received mentoring and counseling had high school completion rates that were, on average, 9.4 percentage points greater than those in comparison populations (93.1% vs. 83.7%, respectively; 27 study arms).

Supplemental Academic Services

In these interventions, services such as remedial education, tutoring, or homework assistance are provided to students who have demonstrated academic difficulties in school or who may be at risk for having academic difficulties. Several federal programs fund these types of interventions. The Community Preventive Services Task Force issued separate findings on Out-of-School-Time-Academic Programs (reading-focused, math-focused, general, minimal academic content).

Effectiveness: Students who received supplemental academic services had high school completion rates that were, on average, 8.8 percentage points greater than those in comparison populations (89.8% vs. 81.0%, respectively; 28 study arms).

School and Class Restructuring

Schools may be reorganized with the objective of improving school engagement and learning. Reorganization may include the creation of small learning communities, career academies designed to orient student learning to particular occupational fields, block schedules (i.e., longer class periods that increase concentrated learning and decrease transition time), or class size reduction that allows more attention to students' individual needs.

Effectiveness: Students whose schools or classes were restructured had high school completion rates that were, on average, 8.3 percentage points greater than those in comparison populations (91.9% vs. 83.6%, respectively; 105 study arms).

Multiservice Packages

Multiservice packages combine more than one of the intervention types described in this review. Most often, multiservice packages are comprehensive programs that include an academic component, vocational training, and case management. Some interventions also provide diverse services that may include housing, health care, homework assistance, guidance, counseling, recreational opportunities, or enrichment activities such as access to performing arts.

Effectiveness among high-risk populations: Students who received this intervention had high school completion rates that were, on average, 7.7 percentage points greater than those in the comparison populations (89.3% vs. 81.6%, respectively; 23 study arms).

Effectiveness among students who were pregnant or had children: Students who received this intervention had high school completion rates that were, on average, 11.0 percentage points greater than those in comparison populations (43.0% vs. 32.0%, respectively; 47 study arms).

Attendance Monitoring and Contingencies

In these programs, trained staff monitor students' attendance in school and provide mentoring services to increase attendance and school participation. Staff also review students' academic performance, provide feedback to students, and update parents on students' progress. They may also mentor students, model use of problem-solving skills, make themselves available for students to discuss personal concerns, and work with students to increase their level of school engagement. Students in attendance monitoring programs may receive rewards or "contingencies" such as cash awards for their attendance and participation in school.

Effectiveness among high-risk populations: Students who received this intervention had high school completion rates that were, on average, 6.7 percentage points greater than those in the comparison populations (80.1% vs. 73.4%, respectively; 26 study arms).

Effectiveness among students who were pregnant or had children: Students who received this intervention had high school completion rates that were, on average, 12.4 percentage points greater than those in comparison populations (30.4% vs. 18.0%, respectively; 39 study arms).

Community Service

Students participating in these interventions plan and carry out community service projects. These interventions are commonly coupled with a life-skills curriculum.

Effectiveness: Students who participated in community service programs had high school completion rates that were, on average, 6.3 percentage points greater than those in the comparison populations (97.4 vs. 91.0%, respectively; 24 study arms).

Case Management

Case management connects students and families with appropriate services, and monitors students' progress.

Effectiveness: Students who participated in a case management intervention had high school completion rates that were, on average, 3.6 percentage points greater than those in the comparison populations (92.9 vs. 96.5%, respectively; 17 study arms).

Summary of Economic Evidence

Overall findings showed interventions to increase high school completion produced substantial economic benefits to government and society.

The economic review is based on evidence from 47 studies (search period January 1985–October 2012). Included studies reported program costs (37 studies), program benefits measured as lifetime benefits per additional high school graduate (10 studies), cost-benefit analyses (22 studies), and cost-effectiveness analyses (37 studies). All economic values are reported in 2012 U.S. dollars.

  • Lifetime benefits per additional high school graduate from the governmental perspective ranged from $187,000 to $240,000 (4 studies) and benefits from a societal perspective ranged from $347,000 to $718,000 (6 studies).
    • Benefits were measured by lifetime economic benefits to society and to the government per additional high school graduate, including productivity loss averted, and healthcare, crime, and welfare costs averted.
    • Some benefit analyses also included indirect education cost – the extra costs to families and school systems when students are motivated to continue their education and stay in school longer.

Types of High School Completion Programs

Cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analyses were done by intervention type. The Task Force Finding and Rationale Statement includes more information about the data and calculations used to reach these figures.

Vocational Training

  • Estimated cost per student ranged from $2,100 to $10,500 (2 studies).
  • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate ranged from $30,300 to $69,500 (2 studies).
  • Estimated benefit-to-cost ratios of 2.9:1 and 6.8:1 (2 analyses).

Alternative Schooling

  • Estimated cost per student ranged from $1,700 to $12,900 (4 studies).
  • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate ranged from $21,100 to $322,800 (4 studies).
  • Estimated benefit-to-cost ratios of 0.6:1 and 1.6:1 (2 analyses).

Social-Emotional Skills Training

  • Estimated cost per student ranged from $1,100 to $7,200 (2 studies).
  • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate ranged from $8,600 to $178,800 (2 studies).
  • No cost-benefit analyses were identified for this type of program.

College-Oriented Programming

  • Estimated cost per student ranged from $3,400 to $5,800 (3 studies).
  • Estimated costs per additional high school graduate of 30,600 and $265,700 (2 studies); one additional study reported an infinitely high* estimate because the program was found to be ineffective.
  • Estimated benefit-to-cost ratios of 0.8:1 (1 analysis).

Mentoring and Counseling

  • Estimated cost per student ranged from $600 to $4,500 (2 studies).
  • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate ranged from $11,200 to $90,400 (2 studies).
  • Estimated benefit-to-cost ratios of 2.1:1 (1 analysis).

Supplemental Academic Services

  • Estimated cost per student ranged from$800 to $14,100 (2 studies).
  • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate of $48,300 (1 study), and another study reported an infinitely high* estimate because the program was found to be ineffective.
  • Estimated benefit-to-cost ratios of 4.2:1 (1 analysis).

School and Class Restructuring

  • Estimated cost per student ranged from $2,200 to $16,000 (9 studies).
  • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate ranged from $20,100 to $145,100 (9 studies).
  • Estimated benefit-to-cost ratios ranging from 1.3:1 to 9.3:1 (8 analyses).

Multiservice Packages

  • Among high-risk populations:
    • Estimated cost per student ranged from$4,100 to $22,500 (4 studies).
    • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate ranged from $56,500 to $131,100 (3 studies), and one study reported an infinitely high* estimate because the program was found to be ineffective.
    • Estimated benefit-to-cost ratios of 1.6:1 and 2.8:1 (2 analyses).
  • Among students who were pregnant or had children:
    • Estimated cost per student ranged from $14,800 to $17,800 (3 studies).
    • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate ranged from $67,200 to $194,600 (3 studies).
    • Estimated benefit-to-cost ratios of 1.1:1 and 1.2:1 (2 analyses).

Attendance Monitoring and Contingencies

Among high-risk populations:

  • Estimated cost per student ranged from $2,800 to $5,700 (3 studies).
  • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate ranged from $33,600 to $70,900 (3 studies).
  • Estimated benefit-to-cost ratios of 2.6:1 and 5.6:1 (2 analyses).

Among students who were pregnant or had children:

  • Estimated cost per student was $300 (1 study).
  • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate $99,800 (1 study).
  • No cost-benefit analyses were identified for this type of program.

Community Service

  • Estimated cost per student was $300 (1 study).
  • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate was $3,000 (1 study).
  • Estimated benefit-to-cost ratio of 68.2:1 (1 analysis).

Case Management

  • Estimated cost per student was $22,800 (1 study).
  • Estimated cost per additional high school graduate was infinitely high* because the program was found to be ineffective (1 study).
  • No cost-benefit analyses were identified for this type of program.

* When an economic study estimated program cost, but determined the program to be ineffective (i.e., an estimated effect of zero), the cost per additional graduate was reported as infinitely high (i.e., program cost/0 effect).

Applicability

Based on the settings and populations from included studies, results are applicable to:

  • High-risk, pregnant and parent student populations in high-income countries
  • Male and female students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds

Program effectiveness differed on various dimensions:

  • Programs implemented in school settings were more effective than those implemented outside of school in community venues.
  • Well-implemented programs were more effective than those that reported implementation problems.
  • Among pregnant or parent student populations, programs were more effective for older as compared with younger students.

Evidence Gaps

Each Community Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force) review identifies critical evidence gaps—areas where information is lacking. Evidence gaps can exist whether or not a recommendation is made. In cases when the Task Force finds insufficient evidence to determine whether an intervention strategy works, evidence gaps encourage researchers and program evaluators to conduct more effectiveness studies. When the Task Force recommends an intervention, evidence gaps highlight missing information that would help users determine if the intervention could meet their particular needs. For example, evidence may be needed to determine where the intervention will work, with which populations, how much it will cost to implement, whether it will provide adequate return on investment, or how users should structure or deliver the intervention to ensure effectiveness. Finally, evidence may be missing for outcomes different from those on which the Task Force recommendation is based.

Identified Evidence Gaps

  • Answers to the following questions would increase our understanding of the different high school completion programs and facilitate their implementation.
    • In multiservice packages, how does each component contribute to program effectiveness?
    • How effective are these programs at increasing rates of GED completion?
    • What is the optimal duration for each type of program?
  • More information is needed about the effectiveness of these programs among students in institutions (e.g., prisons, residential settings for various forms of treatment).

Study Characteristics

  • Interventions were conducted in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.
  • In 75% of the studies, most students were from racial or ethnic minorities.
  • Most studies included students from predominantly low-income families.
  • Males and females were equally represented in programs for high-risk populations; only females were included in programs for students who were pregnant or had children.

Publications