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Dropout Rates in the United States: 1995

High School Completion Rates

Concerns over high school dropouts stem from an increased understanding of the importance of having an educated workforce. Technological advances in the workplace have increased the demand for skilled labor to the point where today a high school education serves more as a minimum requirement for entry to the labor force. This increased emphasis on educational requirements makes the completion of a high school program more essential than ever.

In fact, youths entering adulthood today face more challenging educational requirements than their parents or grandparents 20 to 50 years earlier. When the grandparents of today's high school students entered adulthood, a high school education was viewed as an asset in the labor force; and for their children, a high school education still served as an entryway to a number of promising career paths. For example, in 1950, when grandparents of many of today's high school students were new to the workforce, only about one-half of the population ages 25 to 29 had completed a high school program (Digest of Education Statistics 1995). In contrast, during the 1970s, when the parents of many of today's high schoolers entered the labor force, about 83 to 84 percent of the population ages 18 through 24 not enrolled in high school had a high school education (figure 4 and table A39).

Figure 4: Completion rates for persons ages 18-24 not currently enrolled in high school or below, 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October (various years), unpublished data.

If the population is considered as a whole, the net increase in high school completion observed over the last 20 years is less than 2 percent. By 1995 about 85 percent of the 18- through 24-year-olds who were not still in high school had completed a high school program. The picture is somewhat different when the experiences of individual racial-ethnic groups are considered separately (Table 11). The percent of white young adults with a high school education during the 1970s was between 86 and 87 percent by 1995 89.8 percent of this group held high school credentials. During the 1970s, between 70 and 74 percent of black young adults had completed a high school program; by 1995, the number was up to 84.5 percent. A lower percentage of Hispanic youths complete high school programs, and the pattern for Hispanics has continued relatively unchanged during the 1970s the percentage of Hispanic 18- through 24-year-olds with a high school education fluctuated between 56 and 62 percent; in the 1990s it ranged from about 59 to 64 percent, and in 1995 the rate was 62.8 percent.

Table 11: High school completion rates and method of completion of 18- through 24-year-olds not
currently enrolled in high school or below, by race-ethnicity: October 1990 through October 1995

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                 Year
Completion method         1990    1991    19922           19932  19942,3  19952,3
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                (percent)
Total1
   Completed              85.6    84.9    86.4            86.2    85.8    85.3
      Diploma             81.0    80.9    81.5            81.3    79.4    77.9
      Alternative          4.6     4.0     4.9             4.9     6.4     7.4
White, non-Hispanic
   Completed              89.6    89.4    90.7            90.1    90.7    89.8
      Diploma             85.0    85.2    85.7            85.4    84.6    82.9
      Alternative          4.6     4.2     5.0             4.7     6.1     6.9
Black, non-Hispanic
   Completed              83.2    82.5      82            81.9    83.3    84.5
      Diploma             78.0    77.4    76.8            75.9    75.7    75.9
      Alternative          5.2     5.1     5.2             6.0     7.6     8.5
Hispanic
   Completed              59.1    56.5    62.1            64.4    61.8    62.8
      Diploma             56.5    54.4    58.0            58.5    56.5    54.2
      Alternative          2.6     2.1     4.1             5.9     5.3     8.6
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1/ Due to relatively small sample sizes, American Indian/Alaskan Natives and
Asian/Pacific Islanders are included in the total but are not shown separately.
2/ Numbers for these years reflect new wording of the educational attainment item
in the CPS.
3/ Numbers in these years reflect changes in CPS due to newly instituted computer
assisted interviewing and/or due to the change in the population controls to the
1990 Census-based estimates, with adjustment.
NOTE: Because of rounding, details may not add to totals.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey,
October (various years), unpublished data.

The race-ethnicity differences evident in these high school completion rates mirror the pattern of differences observed in the status dropout rates. The same is true when high school completion rates are examined within income levels and geographic regions.

Youths living in families at the highest income levels were the least likely to drop out of high school, compared with young adults from families with low incomes who were eight times more likely to drop out. Correspondingly, nearly 97 percent of the youngsters from families at high income levels complete high school, compared with about 73 percent of the youths from low income families (table 12).

Table 12: Completion rates and number and distribution of completers, ages 18-24, not currently enrolled in high school or below, by sex, race-ethnicity, income, and region: October 1995

------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                   Completion      Number         Percent
                                      rate       of completers    of all
                                    (percent)     (thousands)   completers
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
  Total                                85.3         20,102       100.0
Sex
  Male                                 84.5          9,785        48.7
  Female                               86.0         10,317        51.3
Race-ethnicity1
  White, non-Hispanic                  89.8         14,486        72.1
  Black, non-Hispanic                  84.5          2,738        13.6
  Hispanic                             62.8          2,112        10.5
Family income2
  Low income level                     73.2          3,840        19.1
  Middle income level                  85.8         11,464        57.0
  High income level                    96.6          4,798        23.9
Region
  Northeast                            89.6          3,863        19.2
  Midwest                              88.9          4,991        24.8
  South                                82.8          6,997        34.8
  West                                 81.8          4,251        21.1
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
1/ Due to relatively small sample sizes, American Indian/Alaskan Natives and
 Asian/Pacific Islanders are included in the total but are not shown separately.
2/ Low income is defined as the bottom 20 percent of all family incomes for 1994;
 middle income is between 20 and 80 percent of all family incomes; and high
 income  is the top 20 percent of all family incomes.
NOTE: Because of rounding, details may not add to totals.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey,
October 1995, unpublished data.

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.\1\   Similarly, the higher dropout rates evident in the South and West translate into lower high school completion rates of about 83 percent in the South and 82 percent in the West.

Completion Rates by State

Often interest in geographic comparisons extends beyond the regional level to state-specific data. One obvious question, given the regional differences in high school completion rates, is whether the completion rates are comparable or vary across states within each region. In order to consider data by states, completion rates are computed based on data spanning a three year period, so that the data by state presented in table 13 represent the averages experienced over the three year periods of 1990-92 and 1993-95.\2\   In looking at these data, it should be noted that the survey respondents may have attended school in a different state from that in which they resided at the time of the interview.

Data for the most recent three years show that the state-by-state estimates in the Northeast range from 86.9 percent in New Hampshire to 94.7 percent in Connecticut, with Pennsylvania at a median of 89.5 percent. The rates in the Midwest range from 86.7 percent in Illinois to 96.6 percent in North Dakota, and the median of 91.2 percent falls between the rates of 91.5 percent in South Dakota and 90.9 percent in Kansas. In the South, the rates range from 79.5 percent in Texas to 93.6 percent in Maryland, with North Carolina at the median of 85.5 percent. Similarly, the Western rates range from 78.9 percent in California to 93.6 percent in Utah, with Idaho at the median of 86.4 percent.

In some cases, the sample sizes for individual states make it difficult to draw firm conclusions. For example, the highest and lowest rates observed in the Northeast are not significantly different from one another, despite a 7.8 percentage point range. However, some interesting comparisons can made. In particular, in the Midwest, South and West there are significant differences between the completion rates of states with the highest and lowest rates within each region. The highest completion rates in each of the four regions are on a par with one another and are all over 90 percent; the lowest rates in the South and West are lower, however, than the lowest rates in the Midwest.

Table 13: High school completion rates of 18- through
24-year-olds not currently enrolled in high school or below,
by state: October 1990-92 and 1993-95

---------------------------------------------------
State                                1990-92*  1993-95*
--------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL                                   85.5    85.3
NORTHEAST    Connecticut                89.9    94.7
             Maine                      91.9    92.9
             Massachusetts              89.8    92.5
             New Hampshire              87.9    86.9
             New Jersey                 90.8    91.8
             New York                   88.0    87.1
             Pennsylvania               90.2    89.5
             Rhode Island               87.9    89.4
             Vermont                    87.0    88.1
MIDWEST      Illinois                   86.0    86.7
             Indiana                    87.8    88.5
             Iowa                       94.6    93.2
             Kansas                     93.2    90.9
             Michigan                   87.2    88.7
             Minnesota                  92.5    93.3
             Missouri                   88.1    90.3
             Nebraska                   92.5    94.5
             North Dakota               96.3    96.6
             Ohio                       90.0    88.4
             South Dakota               89.1    91.5
             Wisconsin                  92.4    93.7
SOUTH        Alabama                    85.2    84.0
             Arkansas                   87.5    88.4
             Delaware                   86.2    93.3
             Florida                    84.1    80.7
             Georgia                    85.1    80.3
             Kentucky                   81.1    82.4
             Louisiana                  83.9    80.5
             Maryland                   88.6    93.6
             Mississippi                85.4    83.9
             North Carolina             83.0    85.5
             Oklahoma                   84.3    87.0
             South Carolina             85.0    88.0
             Tennessee                  76.7    84.6
             Texas                      80.0    79.5
             Virginia                   88.6    87.7
             Washington, D.C.           84.0    87.7
             West Virginia              83.3    86.8
WEST         Alaska                     85.6    90.5
             Arizona                    81.7    84.0
             California                 77.3    78.9
             Colorado                   88.1    88.4
             Hawaii                     93.5    92.0
             Idaho                      84.7    86.4
             Montana                    91.6    89.8
             Nevada                     82.1    81.9
             New Mexico                 84.1    82.4
             Oregon                     89.6    82.7
             Utah                       93.9    93.6
             Washington                 90.7    85.7
             Wyoming                    92.0    90.8
------------------------------------------------------
*  Numbers on this table reflect 3-year averages.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census,
Current Population Survey, October (various years),
unpublished data.

High school completion rates in table 11 and table 12 provide a measure of the relative size of the young adult population who have attained a high school credential (85.3 percent in 1995). Most of these young adults attended high school, completed the required secondary coursework, and graduated with a regular diploma. (Strictly speaking, a high school graduation rate is based on students receiving regular high school diplomas.) In 1995, 77.9 percent of the 18- through 24-year-olds who were not still enrolled in high school were graduates holding regular high school diplomas (Table 14).

The path is not so direct for all young adults; as the dropout rates show, each year over the last decade 300 to 500 thousand 10th through 12th graders left school without a high school diploma. Some of them return to school and earn a regular high school diploma. Others use the knowledge acquired while they were in school, perhaps in combination with skills and knowledge from their post high school experiences, or alternatively through special study programs, to take and pass a high school equivalency examination.\3\

In 1995, over 1.7 million young adults 18 through 24 years of age had earned high school credentials by passing an equivalency exam such as the General Educational Development (GED) test.\4\  The young adults who completed high school through this alternative account for 7.4 percent of the 18- through 24-year-olds who were not still enrolled in high school in 1995.

Table 14: High school completion rates and method of
completion of 18- through 24-year-olds not currently enrolled
in high school or below, by income level: October 1995

-----------------------------------------------------------
                            Method of completion	
                       ------------------------------------
Family income          Completed   Diploma     Alternative
-----------------------------------------------------------
                                  (percent)
Total*                    85.3       77.9          7.4
   Low income level       73.2       64.8          8.5
   Middle income level    85.8       77.8          8.0
   High income level      96.6       92.1          4.5
-----------------------------------------------------------
* Low income is defined as the bottom 20 percent of all family
 incomes for 1994; middle income is between 20 and 80 percent
 of all family incomes; and high income is the top 20 percent
 of all family incomes.

NOTE: Because of rounding, details may not add to totals. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, October (various years), unpublished data.

When these two methods of high school completion are examined across racial and ethnic groups, the differences observed in the aggregate high school completion measure are repeated for high school graduates. The percentage of white young adults who complete high school with a regular diploma (82.9 percent) is larger than the percent for blacks (75.9 percent), and the percent for Hispanics (54.2 percent) is even lower than the percent for either blacks or whites (table 11). In contrast, similar portions of each group complete high school by passing an equivalency test (6.9 percent for whites, 8.5 percent for blacks, and 8.6 percent for Hispanics).

These data have only been collected since 1990. A comparison of the 1995 data with those from 1990 suggests that the percent of young adults who earn a regular diploma is relatively stable within each race-ethnicity group. Over the same time period, modest increases have been recorded in the size of the group earning alternative high school credentials this increase is present in the aggregate rates (4.6 percent in 1990 and 7.4 percent in 1995) and in the rates for white young adults (4.6 percent in 1990 and 6.9 percent in 1995). While the apparent increases in the rates for black alternative completers are not significant, the proportion of Hispanics graduating high school with alternative degrees increased (2.6 percent in 1990 and 8.6 percent in 1995).\5\

Recall that the income data in table 12 show that young adults from families with high incomes were the most likely to complete high school (nearly 97 percent); over 90 percent of them graduated from high school with a regular diploma and about 4 percent followed an equivalency test alternative (table 14). By comparison, just over three-quarters of middle income youths and nearly two-thirds of low income youths graduated from high school with regular diplomas, while an additional 8 percent within each of these income groups passed equivalency exams to earn high school credentials.



Footnotes:

1/   The high school completion rate is based on the population of young adults ages 18 through 24 who are not still enrolled in school; the status dropout rate is based on the population ages 16 through 24. Thus, the age range of the status dropout rate is two years wider, and those 18- through 24-year-olds who are still enrolled in a high school program are excluded from the calculation of the high school completion rate. Because of these differences the status dropout rate and the high school completion rate are not the simple inverse of each other.

2/   The sample sizes of the numbers of completers at the state level are, by definition, substantially smaller than the counts of completers supporting the national estimates (but appreciably larger than the counts of dropouts). To improve the stability of the state level estimates for high school completion rates, the rates are displayed as three year moving averages (for example, the data for 1991 represent the average of the data from 1990, 1991, and 1992 and the data for 1994 are based on averages of data from 1993, 1994, and 1995). Even with this, sampling variability is increased substantially, especially in states with relatively smaller populations in the 18 through 24 age range.

3/   The General Educational Development (GED) test is the principal equivalency exam in use at this time. In 1994, about 680,000 people age 16 or older took the GED test, and 73 percent or nearly one-half million passed the exam to earn a high school credential. GED Testing Service. 1995. "Who took the GED? 1994 GED statistical report." Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education.

4/  In the CPS data there may be some ambiguity concerning students who complete high school with a certificate of attendance. While they are supposed to be counted as non-completers, some respondents may report them as completers when asked about educational attainment.

5/  Part of the increase in these estimates may be due to changes in the CPS methodology. The CPS does not specifically identify youths receiving certificates of attendance, but not earning a high school credential. Since 1992, youths who completed the 12th grade without earning a high school credential are not reported as high school completers; prior to 1992 students reported as attending and completing the 12th grade were counted as high school completers. See the technical appendix for a discussion of this issue.


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