It shows how addressing the problem would not only improve public safety but also lessen the impact on the state budget.
A program called "Fight Crime: Invest in Kids" urges more dropout prevention efforts.
"They start out with property crimes, burglaries, car thefts and that gets into what the peer group becomes ... they start hanging out with the gangs, then they start getting into violence," said Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel.
Roy Smith dropped out at 17. Though he's now trying to turn his life around by getting his GED, he had previously turned to selling drugs to survive.
"My family was struggling," said Smith. "There wasn't nobody working and stuff. I had to try and make money to eat. It's not like I wanted to do it."
California's dropout statistics vary. The state says it's about 20 percent; other university studies show it's as much as double that.
The Sacramento School District says it was able to nearly cut its dropout rate in half in just two years.
"We've done it through offering choices for students and families. We've got online curriculum. We've got independent study. We've got options at our high schools that offer career-embedded themes," said Mary Shelton, associate superintendent of the Sacramento School District.
Carol Bainbridge resumed her studies because she was tired of having no career option without a diploma. The 52-year-old hopes to graduate with her granddaughter next year.
"It's just not the life I want to live," said Bainbridge. "And getting an education will help from living that life."
The state has done a terrible job of pinpointing California's dropout rate. A bill that would require the state Dept. of Education to produce a dropout report every year is on the governor's desk.