Written by NFTE Philadelphia Executive Director Sylvia Watts McKinney.
Recent data shows that high school graduation rates have improved . But the high school dropout rate in the U.S.  still stands at 8.1 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This number represents 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and have not earned a high school diploma or GED. And a serious problem remains: the dropout rate skyrockets to 9.3 percent among African-American students, 17.6 percent among Latino students, and 13.2 percent among Native American students.
We’ve all heard the stories of successful entrepreneurs who dropped out of school, focused their energy on creating great products and services, and built empires. Just look at those who decided that college was not for them—Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sean John Combs, or Michael Rubin.
NFTE Philadelphia Semi-Final Regional Business Plan Competition 2011. © Daniel Burke Photography
But these stories are the exception. Most successful entrepreneurs need a baseline education, and most high school dropouts lack the knowledge or experience they would need to become a future success story. Education is crucial to entrepreneurship.
If students are engaged in school, if their lessons make sense to a world outside the classroom, if they receive coaching and support, they are more likely to finish their education and step forward confidently with their lives. A vast majority of high school dropouts say they would have stayed in school if classes were more relevant outside the classroom.
An entrepreneurial mindset can help at-risk students by offering them a more relevant approach to their education. That’s exactly what we strive to impart through NFTE , and we’re happy to see many of our students stay in school and grow into engaged citizens capable of building successful companies. For these reasons, fostering young entrepreneurs  is crucial for the students’ success as well as the success of the economy and society.
Here are some key ways to keep next-generation entrepreneurs engaged:
Through the NFTE entrepreneurship curriculum, we are connecting academics to real world experience with very active support from our dedicated volunteers. With their real world experience and the support of the community of entrepreneurs, we’re giving these kids a new lens through which to look at the world. While they’re in an environment that might be saying to them that they aren’t importan