American students are probably not dropping out of school at a rate any greater than in the past, but economic conditions put the problem into a new perspective.

A diminishing work force (but not in Utah) has made the business community cognizant of the waste that school dropouts represent, said Dr. Mike Murphy, University of Utah associate professor of educational administration."When the United States had a surplus of workers, we could afford to `waste' these kids who didn't finish school. They were not essential to the work force."

Now, when high school students can demand $5 per hour in New Jersey to flip hamburgers because the pool of workers is so small, the problem is impossible to ignore, Murphy said. Utah has a stake in the issue, because higher wages being paid in worker-poor states could drain its pool of employees.

Murphy was one of three speakers who addressed the dropout issue during a meeting of the League of Women Voters.

Statistics on dropouts in Utah are not good, Murphy said, but estimates are that one in five students does not finish high school. Better tracking has been instituted to see which students transfer to other settings and which actually are not pursuing education.

Utah "has the highest survival rate in the West," Murphy said, largely because of its relatively homogenous population, strong sense of family and the value placed on education.

However, Murphy said, some students are being nudged out by Utah's more stringent graduation requirements. "Kids who were struggling before now are not making it," he said.

Why they leave

-Fear of the system, other students or teachers.

-Lack of self-esteem.

-Subject matter irrelevant to their lives or future work prospects.

-Common perception that college is the only "acceptable and result" of public education.

-Necessity to work to help support a family.

-No parental support.

-An impersonal system. Students feel isolated.

-Activites geared to "elite groups"