THE BENEFITS of earning a high school diploma aren't immediately apparent to a lot of high school students. This is especially true of the young blacks and Hispanics who live in poverty. The world around them is far removed from that of middle- or upper-income children. Good role models are rare. Many of the adults these teen-agers see are involved in crime or are totally dependent on social services. Those are some of the reasons that one out of every three minority students in this country drops out of school. The costs to the society, not just the individual student, are enormous -- billions of dollars per year in lost tax revenues, welfare, unemployment and crime.

Some school systems have found programs and methods that seem to work in reducing the dropout rate. These include the appointment of mentors, the establishment of "adopt a student" programs and the promise of jobs. In Boston local businesses and the school system matched efforts to find entry level jobs or the means to go to college for one-third of the city's 3,000 graduating high school seniors. The daily school attendance rate in the Boston public schools rose from 77 percent to 85 percent. At Fremont High School in Los Angeles, 60 percent of the students fail to graduate, but the school tried an "adopt a student" program this past year with 125 pupils. Counselors, teachers and other adults played the role of surrogate parents, helping students with homework, rewarding them with outings and field trips. Only four of the 125 students dropped out. The Los Angeles schools and local businesses are starting a program at six predominantly black and Hispanic high schools, offering jobs within one year of graduation to students who maintain an 80 percent grade average and a 95 percent attendance record.

Local government and business involvement makes sense. Both have a vested interest in developing a pool of students who can fill jobs and be self-sufficient. The jobs won't make anyone rich. Not every student will respond. But the effort is clearly the right way to go.