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Students cheer during commencement ceremonies at Columbia University May 18, 2005 in New York City. - 


SCOTT JAGOW: Here's an interesting question: How much money could the U.S. save if the number of high school dropouts was cut in half? A new report from Columbia University says the answer is $45 billion. Nancy Marshall Genzer has more.

NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Columbia says taxpayers would save $127,000 per new graduate.

The researchers say if students finished high school, they wouldn't need Medicaid or welfare. And study co-author Henry Levin says there's more.

HENRY LEVIN: They pay larger taxes and that's nice. The second thing is that they're less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.

Levin followed students enrolled in dropout prevention programs from pre-school to adulthood.

But Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute is dubious.

NEAL MCCLUSKEY: You can't take a small program, project it on an entire country and say it'll produce the exact same relative savings that it produced when it was just a small program.

But Columbia says other studies back up its research.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.