Building our Human Capital: Should the Government Allow for High School Dropouts?

Audrey Ali, Aparicio PM, Honorbound

One of society’s greatest assets is human capital, which is “the sum total of skills embodied within an individual: education, intelligence, charisma, creativity, work experience, entrepreneurial vigor, even the ability to throw a baseball fast [1].” In order to succeed in life, we need human capital, which can only be achieved with some form of education or training. Lebron James did not become one of the most valuable NBA players based on purely natural talent; even people with natural talents need to be taught so that they can improve. Education is extremely valuable because it allows people to enhance the necessary intellectual skills so that they can be successful. With this in mind, why is it that the Texas government allows for students to drop out of high school at age 16?

Education lies at the core of human capital and helps lead a person towards a good life. In fact, an early dropout ”on average earns less money, is more likely to be in jail, is less healthy, is less likely to be married, and is unhappier than a high-school graduate [2].” In short, dropping out of high school can lead to a worse life. One study shows that 74 percent of drop outs wish that they had stayed in school [3]. Staying in school can affect the financial and mental states of a person. The education system from kindergarten through high school is designed for success so that people are able to lead good lives as high school graduates or even better lives if they choose to pursue higher education [4]. Therefore, in a system designed to prepare students, it seems strange to allow them to drop out two years early. A student may choose to leave school to get a job, but they could increase their income for life by completing their education. At age 16, teenagers are prone to make a rash decision that could detour their whole life in the wrong direction. Under the United States legal system, a person is not considered an adult until age 18. Why is it then that I, as a sixteen year old, am not allowed to vote to elect state officials, yet I have the right to make an adult decision and end my education?

In recent years, a few states, such as Kentucky, have raised the minimum drop out age to 18 and perhaps the Texas government should follow. Enforcing an education designed to allow people to succeed is necessary so that the citizens can be better educated and prepared to strive for success. However, it is not easy to simply pass a law and expect an automatic improvement in human capital. In fact, there are unintended consequences, such as cases of students who dropped out before new laws being forced to return to school because they have suddenly become underage. It will not be an easy fix, but knowing the issue is the first step towards improvement. In conjunction with economics, the education issue must be dealt with carefully so that new laws do not have negative effects, but so that our governments can effectively enhance our nation’s human capital.


[image] Human Capital Flow Chart. Digital image. Technoriya. Accessed June 24, 2017.

[1] Charles Wheelan, Naked economics: Undressing the Dismal Science (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 127.

[2] Messacar, Derek, and Philip Oreopoulos. “Raise dropout age to keep teens in school.” Futurity. March 13, 2013. Accessed June 24, 2017.

[3] Wright, Kim. “Raise dropout age to keep teens in school.” Futurity. March 13, 2013. Accessed June 24, 2017.

[4] Parsons, Bliss. “Will Raising the Legal Dropout Age Help Students?” Foster EDU. September 1, 2015. Accessed June 24, 2017.



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