There are a large number of school and community-based prevention and intervention programs for general population and at-risk students, and there are a number of programs designed specifically to encourage school completion among pregnant and parenting teens. No comprehensive systematic reviews have examined these programs’ overall effectiveness.
General dropout programs (152 studies; 317 independent samples) and dropout programs for teen parents (15 studies; 51 independent samples) were analyzed in separate meta-analyses. Overall, both general dropout programs and programs specialized for teen parents were effective in reducing school dropout (or increasing school completion).
The random effects weighted mean odds ratio for the general programs was 1.72. Using the average dropout rate for control groups of 21.1%, the odds ratio for the general programs translates to a dropout rate of 13%. For the teen parent programs, the mean odds ratio for graduation and dropout outcomes was 1.83 and was 1.55 for school enrollment outcomes.
The average graduation rate for the young women in comparison groups was 26%. The corresponding graduation rate for young mothers in the intervention programs was 39%.
For school enrollment outcomes, the average enrollment rate for the comparison mothers was 33%. The mean odds ratio of 1.55 for these studies translates into an enrollment rate of about 43%.
Moderator analyses for the general programs indicated that studies with similar program and comparison groups at baseline and those that provided posttest data adjusted for baseline non-equivalence produced smaller effect sizes.
For teen parent programs, moderator analyses found that random and matched designs produced smaller effect sizes than non-random or non-matched designs.
Effect sizes were therefore adjusted for methodological characteristics to examine the effects of different program types net of the influence of method. The effects were generally consistent across different types of programs and for different types of participant samples. However, higher levels of implementation quality tended to be associated with larger effects.
Analyses provided no strong indication of the presence of publication or small study bias.
Overall, results indicated that most school- and community-based programs were effective in decreasing school dropout. Given the minimal variation in effects across program types, the main conclusion from this review is that dropout prevention and intervention programs, regardless of type, will likely be effective if they are implemented well and are appropriate for the local environment.
We recommend that policy makers and practitioners choosing dropout prevention programs consider the cost-effectiveness of programs, and choose those that fit best with local needs as well as implementer abilities and resources.