Oregon Public Broadcasting

About two years ago, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber stood in the library at Earl Boyles Elementary, sun streaming in through the big picture window, and made a pledge to the children of Oregon.

"By 2025, for the children who are entering kindergarten in September, we will have a 100 percent high school graduation rate," Kitzhaber promised.

State education officials get even more specific about that goal. They call it "40-40-20," shorthand for at least 40 percent of students earning at least a bachelor's degree, 40 percent completing community college and 20 percent finishing high school. That would be a big change from 2014, when only about 69 percent of Oregon students graduate from high school.

Rob Saxton, Oregon's Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, said 40-40-20 is a lofty goal, but that even getting close to that mark would bring huge rewards.

"Of course, 40, 40 and 20 equal 100, and any time you are talking about 100 percent of anything, I think you are talking about 'aspiration," Saxton said.

Prudence Carter, a professor of sociology and education policy at Stanford University, said there's economic research that suggests the wisdom of aiming high.

"We lose upwards of about $160 billion in terms of lost revenue, economic productivity and taxes that an employed person would pay," over the course of the lifetime of the approximately 20 percent of American kids who don't graduate from high school, Carter said.

And the costs are far more than that, Carter adds, if you factor in the social services and law enforcement costs for dropouts.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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