They could have brought more than four billion dollars to Kentucky's economy over their lives but instead, thousands of students dropped out of high school last year. Now some Eastern Kentucky schools are trying to show students exactly why that diploma is so important.
It seems like every high school student is planning for college, but school officials say thousands of Kentucky students struggle just to complete their senior year.
"You want to give them some hope and instill in them that there is something to do out there," said Lewis Morris, JAG Coordinator.
Hazard High School Teacher Lewis Morris says for many students, a four year college degree just isn't an option, but programs like Jobs for American Graduates, or JAG, help students find ways to succeed after high school.
"It has kept these kids who would be possible drop outs in school, and it's given them some initiative to stay in school, and reason why they need to continue their education after high school," said Jeanette Combs with Hazard High School.
Administrators also say drop out rates go hand in hand with truancy and they say enforcing the attendance policy keeps students on track to graduation.
"When a student wants to drop out, someone will counsel them, a guidance counselor, principal, or myself," said Jeff Brashear with Perry County Schools.
Brashear says sometimes that means telling students the hard truth.
"If you don't have a high school diploma, first of all you can't get a job. If you can't get a job, how do you pay your bills," Brashear said.
And if students will just stick with it, school officials say the can help every student find a job or technical program that fits their interests.
"We want them to get out there so they can be successful in whatever they're doing," Morris said.
"We have to keep working on dropout prevention because it's a never ending process. Next year's kids will have to start all over again," Brashear said.
Kentucky's graduation rate was 69.7% last year. That's just a little higher than last year's national average of 69.6%.