Help all Americans achieve at least high school graduation

(Download this fact sheet as a PDF in English, Spanish or French)

blue graduation capWhy should I care?

When asked for one thing his community should do to improve the health of its residents, Adewale Troutman, then director of the health department in Louisville, Kentucky, said: "Make sure that everyone graduates from high school."1 Why would someone from the city’s health department have schools on his mind? Isn't that the board of education's job?

High school graduates tend to lead longer and healthier lives than their peers who drop out.2 This is partly due to a graduate’s ability to earn more money and afford better health care and housing in safer neighborhoods. But by completing a high school education, graduates also have an opportunity to learn more at school about health — promoting behaviors such as healthy eating and physical activity. Graduates are more likely to practice these healthy behaviors and ultimately have a better chance of growing a strong social support network.

While high school graduation rates reached a record high in 2013-2014, at more than 82 percent,3 high schools still lost nearly 750,000 students to dropout in 2012.4 Students do not graduate for a number of reasons, many of which relate to their social circumstances. For example, they may have to provide care for a relative or child or get a job. Common barriers to graduation include bullying, absenteeism, undiagnosed or unmanaged medical conditions or mental health issues, and chronic stress related to social and environmental circumstances.

To help at-risk students overcome such barriers to graduation, APHA is pushing for school-based health centers that help students with their physical, mental and social well-being in their teen years so they can graduate and be healthier for the rest of their lives. The results are very promising: 5

  • Students who receive mental health services at school-based health centers have 50 percent fewer missed days of school. 
  • African-American boys enrolled in school-based health centers are three times more likely to stay in school.

What can I do?

Support School-Based Health Centers. As of 2013-2014, more than 2,300 school-based health centers were serving students in nearly every state and Washington, D.C. But many more families could still benefit from their services.6 Find out whether your school district has one, and if it doesn't, become a local champion for creating a school-based health center in your community. You’ll be helping students in your community graduate and be healthier for life.

Become a mentor. Positive adult relationships are critical for the health and well-being of children and adolescents. School-based health centers are known for building strong bonds with students. Contact local programs in your community for mentorship opportunities! 

Get involved in your local community. Coach a local sports club, donate sports equipment to teams in low-income neighborhoods, donate healthy (i.e., perishable) food options to food banks when possible. If you’re passionate about healthy food access, become a member of your community's food policy task force and support youth and family homeless shelters. Consider donating washer/dryers to under resourced schools/districts so students can have clean school clothes.

1 APHA Center for School, Health and Education, Graduation is a Public Health ROI
2 CDC: Reframing School Dropout as a Public Health Issue
3 National Center for Education Statistics
Progress is No Accident: Why ESEA Can't Backtrack on Graduation Rates
APHA The Dropout Crisis: A Public Health Problem and the Role of School-Based Health Care
6 School-Based Health Alliance, National Census of School-Based Health Centers

American Public Health Association