Press Release

National Study Illuminates the Role Supportive Relationships Play in Young People’s Decisions to Stay in, Leave and Return to School

CONTACT: Daria Hall,, 202-657-0621

America’s Promise Alliance CEO: “Relationship Poverty” a Key Issue for Too Many Non-Graduates

Study Shows Young People Who Leave School Experienced Nearly Twice as Many Adverse Life Experiences as Young People Who Graduated on Time

While the nation’s graduation rate has reached a record high of 81.4 percent, nearly half a million young people will leave high school this year without graduating. A new report released today by America’s Promise Alliance offers new insights – from the perspectives of young people themselves – into how support from adults and peers can help to close the remaining gap between those who graduate from high school on time and those who don’t.

Don’t Quit on Me: What Young People Who Left School Say About the Power of Relationships is the second major study conducted by researchers at the Center for Promise, the research institute of America’s Promise, housed at Boston University’s School of Education.

As with last year’s report, Don’t Call Them Dropouts, the researchers surveyed nearly 3,000 18-to-25 year-olds across the country and conducted in-depth individual and group interviews in eight cities with more than 120 young people.

“We found that relationships are powerful vehicles for growth, particularly for young people living in challenging conditions,” said John Gomperts, president & CEO of America’s Promise.  “And yet, too many young people don’t have enough access to relationships with stable, caring adults who can help them get what they need to stay on track toward graduation. Relationship poverty is not a lack of love or family, but a lack of access to additional sources of support that can lead to a more promising future.”

Don’t Call Them Dropouts helped us understand the life circumstances of young people who leave high school without graduating,” said Alma Powell, chair of America’s Promise. “Don’t Quit on Me zeroes in on the crucial role relationships have on helping young people stay on track. That’s welcome news for all of us who are dedicated to making the promise of America real for every child.”

The new report, funded by Target, is part of the GradNation campaign to reach the national goal of a 90 percent on time graduation rate by 2020 and increase postsecondary enrollment and completion.

“Target is proud to support this deeper look into how we can help young people re-engage and keep them on the path to high school graduation so they’re ready for college or some form of post-secondary education, a career and a healthy life,” said Laysha Ward, chief corporate social responsibility officer and executive vice president at Target. “An interrupted education doesn’t have to be the end of the learning journey. We can and must help young people navigate the chaos in their lives and connect them to more supportive relationships.”

Findings. “We know a great deal from previous research on youth development that relationships are instrumental in helping young people stay in school,” said Jonathan Zaff, PhD, executive director of the Center for Promise, “but we need to know more about how, when and why these relationships matter and what it takes to make the right support available at the right time for young people who are not graduating on time. That’s what we set out to learn.”

Among young people in our sample, key findings include:

  • Too many young people are facing too many hurdles with too little help.


  • Young people who leave school without graduating often face many challenges and have lower levels of support. This lack of support is a kind of relationship poverty.
  • Top seven adverse life experiences that are significant predictors of leaving school: being suspended or expelled, becoming a parent, having friends who leave school without graduating, dealing with a major mental health issue, not feeling academically prepared for school, being homeless, and moving homes.   
  • Being suspended or expelled more than doubles the odds that a young person will leave school before graduating. 
  • Young people who left school without graduating experienced twice as many adverse life experiences as youth who graduated on time. 
  • More than half of those who left school without graduating experienced five or more adverse life experiences between the ages of 14 and 18.


  • Relationships matter but their importance varies by type, source and intensity of support.   


  • Each of the four types of social support - emotional, informational, appraisal, and instrumental – play a specific role in a young person’s development. Emotional (love and caring) and instrumental (actions like providing a bus pass, a meal, a ride, or babysitting) support from parents and adults in school, however, are most likely to increase the number of students graduating without interruption.
  • Overall support from adults in school reduces the likelihood of young people leaving school by 25 percent. Instrumental support from adults outside of school reduces the likelihood of young people leaving school by 17 percent.
  • Social support enables young people to direct their strengths toward educational goals. Young people with high self-control and high support are 15 percentage points more likely to graduate without interruption than those with high self-control and low support (73.8% vs. 58.4%).


  • Support buffers adversity – up to a point.


  • For young people with two to four adverse life experiences, support from parents, adults in school and peers can help reduce the probability of leaving school.
  • Young people reporting five or more adverse life experiences hit an adversity cliff and social support alone does little to increase graduation rates. Relationships still matter, but they must include efforts to resolve trauma, health problems, and social and economic barriers.


  • Young people need an anchor and a web of support.


  • One anchoring relationship with a stable and trustworthy caring adult (not a family member) is often necessary, but not sufficient to help young people thrive.
  • An anchor can be a gateway to illuminating an existing web of supportive relationships that can provide additional information and resources.
  • The web of support is a collection of individuals within and outside of the family that provide a young person with varying levels and types of support.


Recommendations. The report includes recommendations for how individuals, schools and communities can help more students stay on track toward graduation. Recommendations include: be a mentor, tutor or coach; develop systems in schools for intervening at or before the point of departure that makes it harder for young people to leave in the first place and easier to return; eradicate zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools; and engage health care professionals as allies in boosting graduation rates in communities.

“This report is a reminder that young people who are struggling to stay in school want and need our help and that we all have a role to play in creating the conditions for all young people to thrive,” Gomperts said. “You don’t have to be a hero to be supportive. Everyone should ask: What can I do to help a young person? And then do it.”  

About the report’s name. The title Don’t Quit on Me echoes the many young people who expressed gratitude, in interviews conducted for the study, to those who didn’t give up on them. It also represents a call to action for caring adults.

Full report and graphics. To read the full report, view videos and download graphics visit:  

Share on Twitter. NEW REPORT: Download Don’t Quit on Me & learn what #youth say about the power of relationships. #NotDropouts

The Center for Promise is the research institute for America’s Promise Alliance, housed at Boston University’s School of Education and dedicated to understanding what young people need to thrive and how to create the conditions of success for all young people. @Center4Promise

America’s Promise Alliance leads more than 400 organizations, communities and individuals dedicated to making the promise of America real for every child. As its signature effort, the GradNation campaign mobilizes Americans to increase the on-time high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020 and prepare young people for postsecondary enrollment and the 21st century workforce. @AmericasPromise

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