High School Completion Programs
High school completion programs work to increase the chances that students will graduate from high
school or receive their general educational development (GED) diploma. High school completion
programs often target subsets of students at high risk of non-completion, such as students who are
pregnant or have children. Some programs target all students attending a low-income high school.
Preventive Services Task Force recommends
high school completion programs for students at risk of
not graduating. Research shows that these programs are likely to improve academic achievement,
economic stability, health outcomes, and health equity. Types of programs that can encourage high
school completion include:
- Vocational training
- Alternative schools
- College-focused programming
- Community service
There is also some evidence that GED
certificate programs are associated with increased earnings for individuals and decreased
rates of recidivism for people who have obtained their GED while incarcerated.
Recruiting high school
students to focus on future careers in the healthcare workforce through pipeline programs can also be
a strategy for increasing graduation rates and addressing SDOH. Pipeline programs emphasize the
importance of completing high school, and focus on recruiting rural and minority students. Some of
these programs focus on recruiting students into specific career paths and partner with universities
and colleges to provide early training experiences for these students. In particular, pipeline programs show
promise for improving the diversity of the healthcare workforce and improving health equity. For more
information about rural health workforce pipeline programs, see the Rural Health Information Hub's
Rural Project Examples: Health workforce
Examples of Rural High School Completion Programs Addressing SDOH:
Project Promise (Providing Rural Opportunities in Medicine through
Inspiring Service and Education) is a rural North Carolina program that engages a select number of high
school seniors to prepare for medical careers. The program promotes high school graduation and also provides
academic training, experience with medical coursework, and mentorship through the UNC School of Medicine.
Garrett County, Maryland is implementing multiple educational programs to help improve the health
and well-being of its residents. One program uses a two-generation approach that integrates services
for the entire family, providing children and families with programming to improve educational
attainment. The program has helped young parents who have not completed high school attain their high
The Fond du Lac Ojibwe School in Cloquet, Minnesota is implementing
an adaptation of Check &
Connect on the Fond du Lac Reservation. Check &
Connect developed by the University of Minnesota, is an evidence-based dropout prevention program
shown to improve student attendance and behavior. The model places mentors in participating high
schools who are paired with students at-risk of dropout to help keep them in school. The Fond du Lac
adaptation combines the program with service learning and leadership training to help Native American
youth graduate from high school. The strong service learning component of the program helps engage
youth in their community and helps them connect with the school to decrease dropout rates. Rural high
schools who want to implement evidence-based models such as Check & Connect can learn from other
schools who have successfully implemented these programs, such as schools in rural
counties of Colorado. Hiring the right mentors is especially important for student engagement, and
some schools have had success implementing the program when they partner with other organizations to
recruit qualified mentors, such as organizations working with AmeriCorps.
Student and family engagement is an important element of educational programs addressing SDOH,
including high school completion programs. Parent involvement in program implementation may help
ensure that students are fully invested and committed to earning a high school degree. Programs will
also need to tailor implementation strategies to meet student and community needs. For example,
schools should aim to involve parents and students in the planning stages to ensure that programming
is adapted to the cultural context of the community.
It can be challenging to identify students most at risk for dropping out of high school since these
students may miss more school days than other students and may be less likely to participate in other
school activities. Engaging the right staff, such as school administrators and teachers, to identify
students who are most at risk for dropping out of high school and marketing the program to the
community may help improve student retention rates. Connecting the program to students, families, and
the broader community can also help spread the word about the support that these programs can
provide. For example, teachers and school administrators who live in the community might also attend
community events where they can engage with parents about the program.
Resources to Learn More
Programs to Improve Graduation
Provides information about different model programs and strategies shown to improve student
Organization(s): University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Strategies that Work in Rural Schools
Describes programs and resources geared towards helping students graduate from high schools in rural
Author(s): Morningstar, M.E., Heidrich, M., & Lattin, D.L.
Organization(s): Transition Coalition, University of Kansas
Success: An Opportunity for Population Health: Proceedings of a Workshop – in Brief
Describes the relationship between health and education. Includes examples of school programs that have the
potential to improve population health.
Organization(s): National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and
The Value of People, Place and Possibilities:
A Multiple Case Study of Rural High School Completion
Describes a study of six rural high schools that compared rates of high school completion and identified
characteristics of schools with higher graduation rates.
Author(s): Wilcox, K.C., Angelis, J.I., Baker, L. & Lawson, H.A.
Citation: Journal of Research in Rural Education, 29(9), 1-18