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Rural Health Information Hub

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.

The Community 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
  • Mentoring
  • 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 pipeline.

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 school degree.
  • 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.

Implementation Considerations

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 graduation rates.
Organization(s): University of Nebraska-Lincoln

School 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 Medicine Division
Date: 2/2019

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
Date: 2014