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Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2006

NCES 2008-053
September 2008

National Status Completion Rates

The status completion rate indicates the percentage of young people who have left high school and who hold a high school credential. The rate reported here is based on CPS data and represents the percentage of 18- through 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in high school and who have earned a high school diploma or equivalent credential, including a GED certificate. The status completion rate includes individuals who may have completed their education outside the United States, so the rate is not suited for measuring the performance of the education system in this country. The status completion rate is not simply the inverse of the status dropout rate (i.e., status completion does not equal 100 minus the status dropout rate). The rates are based on different age ranges, with the status dropout rate reported for 16- through 24-year-olds and the status completion rate reported for 18- through 24-year-olds. The completion rate excludes high school students from its denominator, whereas high school students are included in the denominator of the status dropout rate.

  • National status completion rates: In 2006, 87.8 percent of 18- through 24-year-olds not enrolled in high school had received a high school diploma or equivalency credential (table 9).24 Overall, status completion rates have increased over the last 3 decades (figure 3 and table 10), but during the 1970s they remained largely flat. Since 1980, the rate has shown an upward trend, starting at 83.9 percent in 1980 and rising to 87.8 percent in 2006.
  • National estimate of 18- through 24-year-olds with diplomas: The status completion rate reported above includes students who earned an equivalency credential. However, differences between GED recipients and diploma recipients suggest that GED holders fare significantly worse than diploma holders in terms of income and completing postsecondary education (Tyler 2003). Because the method of high school completion is of interest, data from the GEDTS were used to estimate the number of 18- through 24-year-olds in 2006 who had passed the GED exam. This information was then used to estimate the percentage of individuals ages 18–24 with a regular high school diploma in 2006.25 These calculations suggest that approximately 81.7 percent of this age group held a regular diploma in 2006 (data not shown in tables).26
  • Status completion rates by sex: Females ages 18–24 who were not enrolled in high school in 2006 had a higher status completion rate (89.1 percent) than their male counterparts (86.5 percent) (table 9).
  • Status completion rates by race/ethnicity: In 2006, among 18- through 24-year-olds not currently enrolled in high school, Asians/Pacific Islanders had a higher status completion rate (95.8 percent) than Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and individuals who were identified as being of more than one race (92.6 percent, 84.8 percent, 70.9 percent, and 89.7 percent, respectively) (table 9). In addition, Whites were more likely than their Black or Hispanic peers to have completed high school.

    Status completion rates for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics exhibited no general patterns of change during the 1970s, but rates trended upward for each group between 1980 and 2006 (figure 3 and table 11).

    In 2006, 57.7 percent of foreign-born Hispanics ages 18–24 who were not currently enrolled in high school had completed high school (table 9). Compared to foreign-born Hispanics, status completion rates were higher for Hispanics born in the United States (81.9 percent for "first generation" and 83.5 percent for "second generation or higher"), although in each immigrant category Hispanics were less likely than non-Hispanics to have earned a high school credential.

  • Status completion rates by region: Consistent with status dropout data by region, 18- through 24-year-olds in the South and West had lower status completion rates (85.0 and 85.8 percent, respectively) than their contemporaries in the Northeast (91.5 percent) and Midwest (91.7 percent) (table 9).

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24 Considering all 18- through 24-year-olds, irrespective of enrollment status, 82.6 percent held a high school credential in October 2006 (estimates not shown in tables).
25 The number of 18- through 24-year-olds in 2006 who had passed the GED exam is estimated by taking the sum of those who passed the exam in 2006 at ages 18–24 plus those who passed the exam in 2005 at ages 17–23 plus those who passed the exam in 2004 at ages 16–22, and so on. The results indicate that approximately 1.6 million 18- through 24-year-olds in 2006 had passed the GED exam (data not shown in tables). This represented 6.1 percent of people in 2006 in this age range who were no longer in elementary or secondary school. Subtracting this percentage from the 2006 status completion rate of 87.8 percent suggests that approximately 81.7 percent of this age group held a regular diploma. See appendix A of this report for details of this calculation.
26 When all 18- through 24-year-olds are considered, including those currently in high school, the calculation reveals that 5.7 percent held a GED in 2006, while 76.8 percent had earned a regular diploma, resulting in an overall status completion rate of 87.8 percent (data not shown in tables).


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