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High school dropout: Psychological, academic, and vocational factors

Trevor, S.E. & Palmo, A.J. (1981, April). High school dropout: Psychological, academic, and vocational factors. Urban Education, 16, 65-76.


School dropout has become one of the most serious youth problems in our country. Not only does it leave a permanent handicap and represent a high correlation to crime and imprisonment, it also threatens to impair the full-employment economy to which this country is headed. It may seriously hinder our competition in the world market and heighten social conflict within.


The purpose of this research is to test assumptions about the intellectual inferiority of dropouts and their low self images and to determine whether the dropout is different from his peers with regard to intellectual, personality, and academic factors.


Sixty-five high school dropouts (32 males, 33 females) who were enrolled in an "Experimental Career Awareness" program were given tests to measure intelligence, self-concept, internal and external responsibility for motivation, perception of social reinforcement to learn, achievement, and vocational ability.


  • The study supports earlier research suggesting that the dropout is less intelligent than the general population. However, "an undetermined number of dropouts were intellectually capable of performing at an average or above-average level academically."
  • There was no consistent correlation between achievement and intelligence.
  • There was a surprising lack of relationship between academic achievement and students’ self-concept, perception of social reinforcement from significant other, and feeling of responsibility for their academic success. Personal attributes were not a predictor of academic performance.


In determining academic achievement, factors other than intelligence and personal attributes of the dropout must be considered. These researchers suggest special consideration of the educational system and socioeconomic status as important factors.


  • The small number of subjects and their regional location must be considered a limitation to national conclusions.
  • Obviously, the reliability of intelligence tests and the question of exactly what they measure underlie the strength of this study.
  • Current studies must give more attention to the family—and more than a socioeconomic unit—as a primary factor in educational success and failure.


    • Family, teachers, and youth leaders can note from this study that dropouts are not necessarily intellectually disabled nor suffering from feelings of low self-esteem. Relationships with students from youth leaders, encouragement from teachers, and support for and from families are all needed.
    • Attention needs to be given to determine other factors attributing to the dropout problem. Listening is a key element and is the front runner to helping an individual to reconcile with those factors.

Catherine Howell and Dean Borgman cCYS