Focus on Research
Penn State Intercom......October 19, 2000

Financial hardships, not divorce,
boost school dropout rates

By Paul A. Blaum
Public Information

Research_PongChildren of divorced or separated parents are more likely to drop out of middle or high school because of the related economic hardships than because of the family disruption itself, a Penn State researcher said.

"This group of young people are two or three times more likely to drop out of school than classmates whose families stay together. This is true even for children who, following the divorce or separation of parents, become part of a blended, stepparented or guardian family," said Suet-Ling Pong, associate professor of education and sociology.

Children of divorce most often find themselves in a single-parent, usually single-mother household, with the mother's income dropping as much as 35 percent. The resulting financial stress raises the odds of offspring dropping out of school to supplement the family income.

However, what is often overlooked is that many of these disrupted families were poor before the divorce or separation, said Pong. Low income is the cause of both family disruption and school dropout. Poverty was "reshuffled" from two-parent families to single-parent families, according to Pong.

"While our research shows that divorce and single motherhood are associated with children's chances of dropping out, the blame should not fall on single mothers," said Pong, also research associate with the University's Population Research Institute. "Our findings in fact support welfare programs that help poor children generally, regardless of family structure, as well as alimony payment enforcement that assist single mothers suffering dramatic losses of income after divorce. These policies would effectively reduce the likelihood that their children will drop out of school."

Pong and co-researcher Dong-Beom Ju from Korea's Kyungpook National University, a Penn State Ph.D recipient., based their findings on data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center. "Among all detrimental outcomes in the U.S. educational system, dropping out before high school graduation carries perhaps the most serious consequences since it can lead to future economic problems in the form of unemployment, low earnings, propensity to crime and drug abuse," said Pong.

"Cross talk" plays role in
tissue swelling at acute inflammation sites

"Cross talk" between pairs of the smallest blood vessels plays a role in producing tissue swelling at acute inflammation sites, bioengineers have shown.

Current theory holds that, during acute inflammation, white blood cells adhere to the interior walls of venules, the smallest branches of the vein system. These white blood cells cause the venule walls to become more permeable and allow protein to leak into the surrounding tissue.

White blood cells also are thought to cause the capillaries, which branch from the smallest arteries, the arterioles, to become more permeable and leak fluid.

Norman Harris, assistant professor of bioengineering and director of the project, said, "Our novel finding is that communication between pairs of venules and arterioles facilitates signaling to capillaries to release the fluid which causes swelling into the tissues. The idea opens up new routes of investigation for possible interventions to deal with undesirable swelling associated with inflammation."

For the complete story by Barbara Hale, check the Web at

From the Experts

jackIf you haven't yet picked up a pumpkin for this year's Halloween decorating, you shouldn't delay. A horticulturist in the College of Agricultural Sciences said if you wait until the last minute, a smaller-than-normal crop may limit your selection.

"This year's cool, wet weather has been in sharp contrast to last year's drought," said Michael Orzolek, professor of vegetable crops. "But its effect on the pumpkin crop has been similar.

"Because of rain and clouds this growing season, very little pollination took place in many fields," he said. "As a result, the vegetation looks great, but the number of fruit per acre is down. This year's pumpkin crop is probably 20 percent to 30 percent below normal."

Orzolek explained that pollinators, such as honey bees, are not as active during cool, cloudy and wet weather. And without pollination of female flowers, fruit will not form on the plant.

About 6,000 acres of pumpkins are grown in Pennsylvania, ranking the state second in the country.

Orzolek said pumpkin growers in other states fared even worse.

"In New York and New England, heavy rains early in the season prevented some growers from even planting their crops," he said.

Despite Pennsylvania's smaller-than-normal crop, Orzolek doesn't expect a serious shortage.

"There should be enough pumpkins to go around," he said. "But if you wait until the last minute, you might not find the size and color you're looking for."