Other school problems, such as truancy, suspension, and expulsion, are also expected to be associated with violence. Finn et al. (1988) reported high levels of truancy among their delinquents of the 1980s, especially the African American truants who missed at least 45% of school days in the year of the study. Huizinga and Jakob-Chien (1998) show examples from different data sets on the proportion of serious violent offenders with school problems (p. 57). Many of these offenders (68%) are truant—more so than other types of offenders—though other types of offenders also have an inordinate number of school problems (54% among serious nonviolent and 41% among minor offenders compared to 20% among nondelinquent students). The proportion of those who have been suspended is also highest among serious violent (55%) compared to serious nonviolent (42%) and minor offenders (30%). (The percentage among nondelinquents is 15% in their sample.)
Academic attainment is thought to be associated with offending in complex ways. While leaving school early should be associated with general offending due to reducing “life chances” and socioeconomic status (SES), some authors have expected a beneficial effect of dropping out due to the reduction of strain in the lives of underperforming students (see Thornberry, Moore, & Christenson, 1985). Leaving school early has been linked to persistence of criminal behavior. Ambrose and Lester (1988) reported that having a high school diploma reduced the chance of recidivism in a sample of youth released from confinement in Maryland. Henry and colleagues reported that months of education was significantly negatively associated with offending at age 21 in the Dunedin sample (Henry, Caspi, Moffit, Harrington, & Silva, 1999). It also interacted with lack of control such that the impact of education on offending was larger for those with low self-control.
We have to wonder how much schooling is needed for its beneficial impact on offending to kick in, given the increasing demands for education by the job market. College attendance is very common today, and high school graduation is no longer seen as adequate preparation for a sustaining career. We expect that those who drop out of high school, compared to those who complete high school, and those who only complete high school, compared to those who attend at least some college, will exhibit higher rates of violence. We expect this to be due to (1) the interconnections between dropping out and academic ability, intelligence, and cognitive ability; (2) the effect of economic strain on those who do not get an advanced education in the modern economy; (3) the effect that college education itself is likely to have on violent attitudes and beliefs; and (4) myriad extraneous factors also correlated with education, such as parent education, parent SES, quality of the schools attended, violence at the high school and among friends, abuse experience and neighborhood violence. Some authors believe that the effects of abuse and other childhood experiences on adult criminal outcomes are mediated by their effects on high school graduation (e.g., Topitzes, Mersky, & Reynolds, 2011).