More Adults in Neighborhoods Helps Lower Dropout Rates, Study Finds

The greater the number of adults living in a neighborhood, the more likely it is that youth in the neighborhood will graduate from high school, a report from the Center for Promise, the research institute of America's Promise Alliance, finds.

The report, Who's Minding the Neighborhood?: The Role of Adult Capacity in Keeping Young People on a Path to Graduation (49 pages, PDF), examined the ratio of adults over the age of 25 to school-age youth between the ages of 6 and 17 by ZIP code and found that, on average, a 1 percent increase in the adult-to-youth ratio, or adult capacity, resulted in a 1 percent decrease in the dropout rate. According to the study, for every seven additional adults living in a neighborhood, one less student dropped out of school. The study also found that adults age 45 and older had the largest effect on youth dropout rates.

"When there are not enough adults in a community compared to the number of youth, youth will not have the norms, values, and social opportunities and constraints that they may need in order to achieve academically," the report states. "Likewise, more adults in a community can help keep youth on positive educational pathways or re-engage youth if they have previously fallen off of positive pathways."

According to the study, in predominantly African-American neighborhoods the effect of adult capacity on youth staying in school was 30 percent greater than in all-white neighborhoods. And the effect was amplified in higher-income communities: when a neighborhood's mean income was doubled, the impact of adult capacity jumped 12 percent, a finding which suggests that institutional, social, and economic resources — as well as income — play a significant role in adults' ability to serve as effective role models. At the same time, the report found that educational attainment did not make a significant difference, indicating that all adults can play a role in keeping youth on a path to academic success.

"While the U.S. high school graduation rate continues to climb, there are still nearly seven hundred thousand 16- to 19-yearolds who are not in school and who do not have a high school diploma," said Jonathan Zaff, executive director of the Center for Promise and lead author of the report. "Young people need an array of social supports to get on and stay on a positive educational course....Supportive relationships — with mentors, teachers, coaches, faith leaders, other school and nonprofit staff — constitute a web of support that can keep young people engaged in school and connected to their communities."