The national event dropout rate presented here is based on data from the CPS and is an estimate of the percentage of both private and public high school students who left high school between the beginning of one school year and the beginning of the next without earning a high school diploma or its equivalent (e.g., a GED). Specifically, the rate describes the percentage of youth ages 15 through 24 in the United States who dropped out of grades 10–12 from either public or private schools in the 12 months between one October and the next (e.g., October 2005 to October 2006).9 The measure provides information about the rate at which U.S. high school students are leaving school without a successful outcome. As such, it can be used to study student experiences in the U.S. secondary school system in a given year. It is not well suited for studying how many people in the country lack a high school credential irrespective of whether they attended U.S. high schools, nor does it provide a picture of the dropout problem more generally because it only measures how many students dropped out in a single year, and students may reenter the school system after that time. More detail about the definition and computation of the event dropout rate and other rates in this report can be found in appendix A.
Students from low-, middle-, and high-income families experienced an overall decline in event dropout rates during the 3-decade period of the mid-1970s through 2006.15 All three groups of students experienced declines in event dropout rates from 1975 through 1990. Those from low-income families had rates that fell from almost 16 percent to approximately 10 percent. Students from middle-income families had rates fall from 6 percent to 4 percent and those from high-income families had rates fall from 3 percent to 1 percent (figure 1 and table 4). From 1990 to 1995, students from low-income families experienced an upward trend in rates from 10 to 13 percent, while their peers from middle- and high-income families experienced no significant change. In the last decade (1995–2006), the event rates for low-income groups trended downward falling from 13 percent to 9 percent, a trend not found among students from middle- and high-income families.16
9 Data about 9th grade dropouts are not available in the Current Population Survey (see appendix A for more information). The state event dropout rates for public high school students presented later in this report are based on the Common Core of Data, which includes 9th-graders.
10 Trend analyses were conducted using regressions. See appendix A for more details.
11 Beginning in 2003, CPS respondents were able to indicate more than one race. Approximately 2 percent of 15- through 24-year-olds who were enrolled in high school in 2005 (the base population for the 2006 event dropout rate) reported more than one race (table 1). The 2006 tables report data for five racial/ethnic categories: White, non-Hispanic; Black, non-Hispanic; Asian/Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic; Hispanic; and more than one race. The first three categories consist of individuals who identified as only one race, and who did not identify as Hispanic. A fourth category consists of Hispanics of all races and racial combinations. The "more than one race" category consists of non-Hispanics who identified as being multiracial. Because of small sample sizes, American Indians/Alaska Natives who reported only one race are included in the total but are not shown separately.
12 The trend analyses conducted to examine this three-and-a-half decade period are based annual rate estimates for each year from 1972 through 2006. Separate trend analyses were also conducted for each racial/ethnic group separately for trends across the three shorter time periods indicated in the bullet: 1972–1990, 1990–1995, and 1995–2006. Because of small sample sizes for many of the earlier years, reliable trend analyses could not be conducted for Asians/Pacific Islanders and American Indians/Alaska Natives.
13 Although event dropout rates for Blacks fluctuated during the period from 1995 to 2006, the Black event rate for 2006 was lower than the rate for 1995.
14 "Low income" is defined here as the lowest 20 percent of all family incomes, while "high income" refers to the top 20 percent of all family incomes. In 2006, low-income families included those with $18,001 or less in family income, while high-income families included those with $84,562 or more in family income.
15 Trend analyses indicate a decline in the event dropout rate for students from high-income families from 1975 to 2006, but the rates for these two years were not measurably different.
16 Although there was no pattern in event dropout rates for students from middle-income families across the 1995 to 2006 period, the 2006 rate was lower than the rate in 1995.
17 Eighteen-year-olds represent a transitional population in terms of high school education. Many are still in high school, while a large proportion have entered postsecondary education or the labor market (U.S. Census Bureau 2006). Because of this population's transitional nature, they are not included with those who are age 17 and younger, or age 19 and older, in this comparison by age. Nevertheless, the event rate for 18-year-olds is shown in table 1.