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Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2006

NCES 2008-053
September 2008

National Status Dropout Rates

The status dropout rate measures the percentage of individuals who are not enrolled in high school and who do not have a high school credential, irrespective of when they dropped out. The status dropout rate is higher than the event rate in a given year because the status dropout rate includes all dropouts in a particular age range, regardless of when or where they last attended school, including individuals who may have never attended school in the United States. The measure provides an indicator of the proportion of young people who lack a high school credential. While useful for measuring overall educational attainment among young adults in the United States, the status dropout rate is not useful as an indicator of the performance of schools because it includes those who never attended school in the United States. Using data from the CPS, the status dropout rate in this report shows the percentage of young people ages 16 through 24 who are out of school and who have not earned a high school diploma or equivalent credential (e.g., a GED).

  • National status dropout rates: In October 2006, approximately 3.5 million 16- through 24-year-olds were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential (table 6). These status dropouts accounted for 9.3 percent of the 37 million 16- through 24-year-olds in the United States in 2006.

    Among all individuals in this age group, status dropout rates trended downward between 1972 and 2006, from 14.6 percent to 9.3 percent (figure 2 and table 7). The status dropout rate of 2006 was lower than that of 1990, unlike the event dropout rate where no differences were detected between these two years.

  • Status dropout rates by sex: Males ages 16–24 were more likely than females to be high school dropouts in 2006 (10.3 percent vs. 8.3 percent) (table 6).
  • Status dropout rates by race/ethnicity: The 2006 status dropout rate of Asians/Pacific Islanders (3.6 percent) was the lowest among the racial/ethnic groups considered in this report, followed by the status dropout rate of Whites (5.8 percent). The Black status dropout rate was 10.7 percent, followed by the Hispanic rate (22.1 percent). Approximately 7 percent of 16- through 24-year-olds who identified as more than one race in 2006 were status dropouts, a rate lower than that of Hispanics and Blacks, greater than that of Asians/Pacific Islanders, and not measurably different from that of Whites (table 6).20

    Since 1972 the difference between the status dropout rates of Whites and Blacks has narrowed (figure 2 and table 8). This narrowing of the gap occurred during the 1980s, with no measurable change during the 1970s or between 1990 and 2006.

    The percentage of Hispanics ages 16–24 who were dropouts was consistently higher than that of Blacks and Whites throughout the 33-year period of 1972–2006 (figure 2 and table 8). White and Black status dropout rates have fallen by about half since 1972; the rates for Whites fell from 12.3 to 5.8 percent and the rates for Blacks declined from 21.3 to 10.7 percent. Between 1972 and 1990, Hispanic status dropout rates fluctuated considerably, but since 1990 they have demonstrated a downward trend, falling from 32.4 percent to 22.1 percent.21

    In 2006, 36.2 percent of Hispanic 16- through 24-year-olds born outside the United States were status high school dropouts (table 6). Hispanics born in the United States were less likely than immigrant Hispanics to be status dropouts (12.3 percent and 12.1 percent for "first generation" and "second generation or higher", respectively).22 Regardless of the recency of immigration, Hispanic youth were more likely to be dropouts than were non-Hispanic youth.

  • Status dropout rates by age: As might be expected, persons ages 16 and 17 had lower status dropout rates in 2006 than 18- through 24-year-olds, at least in part because most 16- and 17-year-olds were still actively pursuing a high school diploma (table 6).23
  • Status dropout rates by region: In 2006, the South had a higher status dropout rate (11.7 percent) than the Northeast (6.5 percent) and the Midwest (6.1 percent) (table 6). Dropouts were disproportionately concentrated in the South and the West. In 2006, 36.4 percent of 16- through 24-year-olds lived in the South while 45.6 percent of all status dropouts lived there. Similarly, 23.4 percent of the 16- through 24-year-old population lived in the West but 27.3 percent of status dropouts lived there. In contrast, dropouts were underrepresented in the Midwest. That region was home to roughly 22.6 percent of the 16- through 24-year-old population, but only 14.9 percent of all status dropouts.

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20 Due to a small sample size, the standard error for students who identify with more than one race is relatively large, which makes the detection of statistically significant differences difficult.
21 The variable nature of the Hispanic status rate reflects, in part, the small sample of Hispanics in the CPS. The instability in Hispanic estimates in earlier years was the result of relatively smaller proportions of Hispanics in the general population and related CPS samples and of estimates becoming more stable as the proportion of Hispanics in the population has increased.
22 Individuals defined as "first generation" were born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia, and one or both of their parents were born outside the 50 states or the District of Columbia. Individuals defined as "second generation or higher" were born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia, as were both of their parents.
23 In 2006, data from the CPS show that high school enrollment rates by age group were 95.1 percent for 16-year-olds, 88.5 percent for 17-year-olds, 32.0 percent for 18-year-olds, 5.4 percent for 19-year-olds, and 1.2 percent for 20- through 24-year-olds (estimates not shown in tables).


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