It all began a quarter of a century ago. Led by South Carolinian Esther Ferguson, a group of concerned citizens known as The National Dropout Prevention Fund Gathered in New York City to discuss the issue of school dropouts. These business and community leaders soon found that there was no place to turn for information about this gnawing problem. Ahead of their time, they had the foresight to recognize that there needed to be a place for them and others to go for information, preferably an organization at a well-respected college or university. Information was needed to provide them with the data about the issue, and they were especially interested in finding out what educational programs were workig with these students at risk of dropping out.
The quest of the founders led them to Clemson University in South Carolina for a home for the new organization. As the National Dropout Prevention Center (NDPC) entered the world in 1986, some of its highest priorities were to gather relevant information, to ﬁnd out what works in dropout prevention, and to ﬁnd ways to disseminate that growing body of information to educational leaders and practitioners, policymakers, and community and business leaders all over the country.
During the earliest years of operation, the NDPC staff collected a great deal of information; established an on-site resource library; began creating publications with information on dropout issues, including a quarterly newsletter; and developed a computerized model program database. These were the days before the World Wide Web, so the original databases of resources and programs were not directly accessible to most distant users; nevertheless, the staff provided technical assistance in gathering appropriate referrals to its growing clientele.
From the very beginning, hosting conferences to bring together practitioners for the sharing of knowledge and ideas was considered an extremely important function of the Center. Taking on this challenge has created a wide array of professional development opportunities over the years, from the annual national conference—the 23rd being in Chicago—to the annual At-Risk Youth National FORUM each February, to numerous regional Effective Strategies Institutes.
As the years progressed, the members of the National Dropout Prevention Network have become increasingly involved in promoting and disseminating new research in this growing ﬁeld. Thus, eight years into the life of the Center, The Journal of At-Risk Issues was launched. This pioneer in the research arena brought to the forefront a growing body of work in the dropout prevention ﬁeld, with more research based approaches being highlighted.
Still, the focus on “What works?” has caused the NDPC, ﬁrst in 1991 and again more recently, to promote recommendations of 15 Effective Strategies based on the research and experience with the Model Programs Database.
School districts found that in addition to gaining new insights through the Model Program Database and the 15 Effective Strategies, the publications, and attending conferences, they needed personalized attention to meet their growing dropout problem. With so many contacting the NPDC for assistance, it became clear that a research-based initiative needed to be developed to meet this increased need. The PAR (Performance Assessment and Review) Program was begun, and since its initiation, individual schools, school districts, and statewide initiatives have all contracted with the Center as they seek the goal of school improvement. In addition, the needs for program evaluation, mandated by project funders, has been a more recent focus of the NDPC.
Building on the Center’s broad foundation of resource development, service delivery, and leadership, in 2004 the U.S. Department of Education’s Ofﬁce of Special Education Programs (OSEP) selected the NDPC to be the home for the National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities.
The work of the Center continues to ﬂourish with expanding services and modernized versions of knowledge dissemination, such as the Web site, the online newsletter, professional development DVDs, and the monthly radio webcast, impacting our delivery of information about what works. Still, the purpose has not strayed that far from the original goal: to serve as a place to turn to for the best information on dropout prevention.