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Dropout Rates in the United States: 1995 / Executive Summary


Executive Summary

This is the eighth in a series of reports to Congress by the . It presents data on dropout rates in 1995, the most recent year for which data are available, and includes time series data on high school dropout and completion rates for the period 1972 through 1995. In addition to extending time series data reported in earlier reports, this report uses data on country of birth and enrollment in U.S. schools to examine dropout rates among Hispanic young adults who attend U.S. schools. This report uses these and other data available for 1995 to focus on three specific sub-populations that are at particular risk of dropping out of school: foreign-born persons attending U.S. schools, young adults who have been retained a grade or more while enrolled, and individuals who have some type of learning, physical, or other disability.

Event Dropout Rates

Event dropout rates for 1995 describe the proportion of youths ages 15-24 years who dropped out of school in the 12 months preceding October 1995. Demographic data collected as part of the CPS study permit event dropout rates to be calculated across a variety of individual characteristics, including race, sex, region of residence, and income level.

  • One-half million of the 9.5 million 15- through 24-year-olds enrolled in 1994 left school by October of 1995 without successfully completing a high school program. This amounts to 5.7 percent of this group of young adults. This estimate is on a par with those reported over the last 24 years (figure A).
  • Hispanic students are more likely than white students to leave school short of completing a high school program. Although the estimated rate for black students (6.4 percent) falls between the rates for Hispanics and whites, the differences are not significant (table 1).
  • In 1995, young adults living in families with incomes in the lowest 20 percent of all family incomes were six times as likely as their peers from families in the top 20 percent of the income distribution to drop out (table 1).
  • Students who remain in school after the majority of their age cohort has left are more likely to drop out than their younger peers (table 2).
  • Youths 15 through 18 years of age account for two-thirds of all those who dropped out during the preceding year; moreover, nearly 40 percent of the 1995 dropouts were 15 through 17 years of age (table 2).

Figure A: Event dropout rates for grades 10-12, ages 15-24, by race-ethnicity: October 1972 through October 1995

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, October (various years), unpublished data.

Status Rates

Over the last decade, 300 to 500 thousand 10th through 12th graders left school each year without successfully completing a high school program. Each year some of these young adults return to school or an alternative certification program, and others pass out of this age group. Status rates describe the proportion of young adults ages 16-24 years who are considered dropouts in October 1995.

  • In October of 1995 nearly 3.9 million young adults were not enrolled in a high school program and had not completed high school. These youths account for 12 percent of the 32.4 million 16- through 24-year-olds in the United States in 1995 (figure B).
  • While there are still differences in the levels of the status dropout rates of whites, blacks, and Hispanics, the gap between the rates for blacks and whites is closing (figure B).
  • In addition to higher dropout rates, many Hispanic dropouts do not progress as far in school as black and white students who drop out. In 1995, over half of the Hispanic dropouts reported less than a tenth grade education, compared with 31 percent of the white dropouts and 27 percent of the black dropouts (table 6).
  • Youths from families with the lowest incomes are eight times more likely to be dropouts than those from families with high incomes (table 5).
  • Status dropout rates are highest in the Southern and Western regions of the country, where rates are at least one and one-half times those in the Northeast and Midwest (table 5).

Figure B: Status dropout rates for persons ages 16-24, by race-ethnicity: October 1972 through October 1995

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, October (various years), unpublished data.

High School Completion Rates

By definition, the completion rate includes everyone reporting a high school diploma or the equivalent, regardless of the type of credential. The data on high school completions discussed here are reported for all 18- through 24-year-olds who held some type of high school certificate in October 1995.

  • In 1995, about 85 percent of all 18- through 24-year-olds, not still enrolled, had completed a high school program (figure C).
  • Whites are most likely to complete high school (90 percent) followed by blacks (85 percent) and Hispanics (63 percent) (table 11).
  • The relatively low dropout rates observed in the Northeast and Midwest are reflected in high school completion rates of nearly 90 percent in the Northeast and 89 percent in the Midwest (table 12).
  • Young adults who completed high school with a GED account for over 7 percent of the 18- through 24-year-olds who were not enrolled in high school in 1995 (table 11).

Figure C: Completion rates for persons ages 18-24, by race-ethnicity: October 1972 through October 1995

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, October (various years), unpublished data.

Immigration, Participation in U.S. Schools, and High School Dropout Rates

The status dropout rates for Hispanic youths have remained at levels consistently higher than the dropout rates experienced by their white and black peers since the early 1970s. Although a number of factors may contribute to these elevated dropout rates, immigrants who come to the U.S. seeking employment without a high school education and never enroll in U.S. schools have traditionally been counted as dropouts. This may lead to an inaccurate view of Hispanic dropout experiences in U.S. schools.

  • The Hispanic dropout rate of 30.0 percent includes young immigrants who came to the U.S. without high school credentials and did not enroll in school in the U.S. The status dropout rate for Hispanic immigrants ages 16 through 24 is 46.2 percent (table 16). The comparable rate for Hispanics born in the U.S. is 17.9 percent (table 17).
  • The dropout rate for all Hispanic students who have ever enrolled in U.S. schools, regardless of country of birth, is 19.6 percent (table 17).
  • Eighty percent of all Hispanic 16- through 24-year-olds in the U.S. speak Spanish at home. The majority of these young adults (76 percent) were reported as speaking English well or very well (table 20).
  • Hispanic young adults who spoke Spanish at home and also spoke English well or very well were as likely to remain in school as their peers who spoke only English at home (table 19 and table 20).
  • Two-thirds of the Hispanic young adults who reported limited English speaking ability did not have a high school credential and were not enrolled in school in 1995 (table 20).
  • About three-quarters of the Hispanic young adults with limited English speaking ability reported no English as a Second Language instruction (table 21).
  • Eighty percent of Hispanic immigrants ages 16 through 24 who did not enroll in U.S. schools completed the fifth or sixth grade, compared to 50 percent who completed grades seven or eight, and 20 percent who completed the tenth grade (table 23).

Grade Retention

Students judged by their teachers as not ready for grade promotion are often held back a year to master missed coursework or acquire developmentally appropriate social skills. While not able to disentangle the causal effects of retention on dropout rates, 1992 and 1995 CPS data provide the opportunity to examine, on a national scale, the proportion of young adults who were retained in school. They also allow for the examination of the association between grade retention and dropping out.

  • Students who are retained in school are at higher risk of dropping out of school (table 25).
  • Although males were more likely to have been retained, the dropout rate for male students who were retained is lower than the dropout rate for female students who were retained (table 26).
  • While black students are more likely to be retained, the dropout rates for retained students were comparable for black, white, and Hispanic students (table 26).
  • Despite differences in dropout rates across income levels, within each income level, students who had been retained were more likely to drop out than their peers who were not retained (table 26).
  • Youths whose last grade retention occurred in their early elementary grades are less at risk of dropping out than those retained in the later grades (table 27).
  • Individuals held back for two or more years of school were nearly four times as likely to be status dropouts as those who had never been retained (table 28).

Dropping Out and Disabilities

Although they are often held to the same standard as the general population, disabled students must overcome serious obstacles that can interfere with their education. To graduate from high school, disabled students may need to work harder, study longer, or possess greater academic ability than their peers without a corresponding physical, emotional, or learning handicap. The added work and frustration associated with a disability can take its toll over time: national and local studies reveal that disabled youths drop out of school at higher rates than the general population.

  • In 1995, the dropout rate of 14.6 percent for youths with disabilities was larger than the 11.8 percent rate experienced by youths without disabilities (table 29).
  • Young adults reported with mental or emotional disabilities were at an increased risk of dropping out (table 29).
  • Dropout rates for male and female 16- through 24-year-olds are comparable, and this relationship holds for students with disabilities as well as those without (table 30).
  • Race-ethnicity differences evident between black and white young adults in the general population are repeated among students with disabilities, with black disabled students at an increased risk of dropping out (table 31).
  • Disabled youths who are retained in school are at no greater risk of being status dropouts than non-disabled youths who repeated a grade in school (table 32).


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