Dropout Rates in the United States: 1994
This seventh annual dropout report by the National Center for Education Statistics presents data on high school dropout and completion rates over the 1972 through 1994 time period. Data from the October 1994 Current Population Survey (CPS) of the U.S. Bureau of the Census are used to compute national dropout rates. These rates are examined for population subgroups defined by sex and race ethnicity, as well as income levels, and regions of the country. In addition, NCES data from the Common Core of Data (CCD) are used to provide state estimates of dropout rates.
NCES longitudinal cohort studies provide the data for more detailed analyses of dropout rates for individual groups of students. In particular, the dropout experiences, reported reasons for dropping out, and resulting outcomes are reported for young adults who were in the eighth grade in 1988. Where data permit, the experiences of this recent cohort are compared to a cohort of students from 10 years earlier.
Data from the CPS are also used to compute high school graduation and completion rates. These rates are examined within racial and ethnic groups, and by state and region of the country.
This report includes three alternative types of dropout rates-event, status, and cohort rates. Each one provides unique information about the student dropout population.
The event dropout rate provides a measure of recent dropout experiences. Event rates are important because they reveal the proportion of students who leave high school each year without completing a high school program.
The status dropout rate is a cumulative rate. It is much higher than the event rate because it includes all dropouts, regardless of when they last attended school. Status rates are important because they reveal the extent of the dropout problem in the population. This rate suggests the magnitude of the challenge for further training and education that will be needed if these dropouts are to participate fully in the economy and life of the nation.
The cohort dropout rate measures what happens to a single group, or cohort, of students over a period of time. This rate is based on repeated measures of a group of students with shared experiences. Cohort rates are important because they reveal how many students starting in a specific grade drop out over time. In addition, cohort rates from longitudinal studies provide more background and contextual data on the students who drop out than are available through the CPS or CCD data collections.
In 1994, an estimated 5.3 percent of high school students dropped out of school (table 1)./1 Data from the October 1994 CPS show that there were 9.4 million 15- through 24-year-olds enrolled in grades 10-12 in October 1993 (see table C1). Close to one-half million of these students left school by October 1994 without completing a high school program.
The 1994 event dropout rate is lower than the recorded high of 6.7 percent observed in 1974 and again in 1978 and 1979 (figure 1 and table A38)./2
Race-Ethnicity and Age
A closer look at who is making this dropout decision shows that Hispanic students are more likely than white students to leave school during their high school years (10.0 percent versus 4.2 percent). While the rate for blacks (6.6 percent) appears to be intermediate to those for Hispanics and whites, the differences are not significant (table 1).
Data for individual years of age show that among youth who are still enrolled in school the likelihood of leaving school increases with age, so that only about 3 percent of the enrolled 15-16, and 17-year-olds dropped out over the course of the year compared with 7 percent of the 18-year-olds and 12 percent of the 19-year-olds (figure 2 and tables 2 and A41).
NCES is in the process of developing a national database of public school district dropout rates as a component of the Common Core of Data (CCD) universe collection. When complete, event data for sex, race-ethnicity, and grade level for grades 7 through 12 will be collected at the school district level and aggregated and reported at the state and national levels.
There are currently 45 states plus the District of Columbia submitting dropout data to CCD; as of the 1993-94 school year, 17 states, and the District of Columbia, have data that meet quality and comparability levels needed to justify publishing estimates. For these 17 states, the midpoint of the ninth-to-twelfth grade dropout rate is 4.6 percent, with the rates ranging from 2.3 to 10.2 percent (table 3).
This measure of high school status includes a count of all young adults who are not enrolled in a high school program and have not completed high school, regardless of when they last attended school. CPS data show that in October of 1994 there were 32.6 million 16- through 24-year-olds in the U.S., and 3.7 million of them were not enrolled in a high school program and reported having not completed high school (table 4 and C5). This amounts to a status dropout rate of 11.5 percent in October of 1994./3
The 1994 status rate represents a decline from the recorded high of 14.6 percent observed in 1972 and again in 1979 (figure 3 and table A43)./4
Status dropout rates for whites and blacks show an overall pattern of decline, with 1994 rates of 7.7 percent for white, non-Hispanics and 12.6 percent for black, non-Hispanics (table 5). While the rates for blacks remain higher than those for whites, the gap is narrowing as the rates for blacks continue to decline at a more rapid pace./5
In contrast, the 1994 status dropout rate for Hispanics is 30.0
percent. The rates for this group show no consistent pattern of change over
time, but persist at a level substantially higher than the rates observed for
blacks and whites./6
Not only do Hispanics have higher dropout rates than whites and blacks; but, on average, the amount of education they complete is lower./7 Sixty-two percent of all Hispanic dropouts have less than a tenth-grade education, compared with 30 percent of white dropouts and 22 percent of black dropouts (table 6)./8
Status dropout rates computed by family income levels show that the dropout rate is highest for persons at the lowest income levels./9 For example, 21.0 percent of the young adults in families with incomes in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution are out of school and have not completed a high school program. By comparison, 4.4 percent of the young adults with families in the top 20 percent of the income distribution are status dropouts, and for the remaining income levels (that is, the middle income group) the status dropout rate is 11.3 percent (table 7).
When race and income are considered together, the difference noted between the status dropout rates for whites and blacks does not occur in the middle and high income groups (table 7). The black-white disparity in status dropout rates is only evident among young adults in families with incomes in the lowest 20 percent of the income distribution.
The southern and western regions of the country have a disproportionally high share of young adults who have left high school without completing a high school program (tables 5, 8, and C7)./10 White, non-Hispanic young adults living in the southern region of the U.S. are more likely to have dropped out than whites in other regions of the country. Due in part to relatively small sample sizes, the status dropout rates for blacks are statistically consistent across the four major geographic regions of the country, and the same is true for Hispanic young adults.
Despite the lack of regional differences within
these two groups, Hispanics drop out at higher rates than blacks or whites in
virtually all sections of the country. Furthermore, the geographic
concentration of blacks in the South and Hispanics in the South and West
contribute to higher status dropout rates in those two
regions of the country (table 9).
Longitudinal studies follow the experiences that a cohort of students share as they progress through school. Longitudinal studies can lead to an increased understanding of high school dropouts by providing an opportunity to examine in more detail questions about who drops out, the life circumstances of dropouts, the factors that influence the decision to drop out of high school, and the experiences young adults have after leaving school. In the 1987-88 school year, NCES initiated the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS:88) of the cohort of students enrolled in eighth grade. Following the 1988 base year data collection, these students were re-interviewed every two years through 1994. Analysis of the enrollment and grade and program completion status of these students provides a foundation for studying their progress through the educational system.
The cohort dropout rates for the eighth-grade class of 1988 show that 6.8
percent of the eighth graders in 1988 dropped out of school between the
spring of 1988 and the spring of 1990 (table 10)./11 Furthermore 7.6 percent
of the 1988 eighth graders who were enrolled in the spring of 1990 dropped
out between 1990 and the spring of 1992, and by the spring of 1992, 11.6
percent of the 1988 cohort of eighth graders were out of school and had not
completed a high school program.
young adults were re-interviewed in 1994 and information from those
interviews, sometimes taken in combination with their high school
transcripts, show through re-enrollments and alternative credentialing
programs, the size of this group was reduced to 11.0 percent by the summer of
1992./12 A total of 80.9 percent of the 8th grade of 1988 had completed a
regular high school program by the end of the summer of 1992, 2.5 percent
completed an alternative credential, 0.1 percent received a certificate of
attendance (not shown), and 5.5 percent were still enrolled in a high school
program of some type (table 11).
When sex and race ethnicity are taken into account, the data show that male and female students are equally likely to leave school, regardless of the grade intervals considered. And, racial and ethnic differences persist in general, the dropout rates for Hispanics and blacks are higher than those for whites and Asians.
Longitudinal studies that are conducted on different cohorts of students enrich our understanding even further. In 1980, the High School and Beyond (HS&B) study included a nationally representative sample of sophomores; after initial interviews in 1980, these students were re-interviewed in 1982, 1984, 1986, and 1992./13 More recently, the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88) included a nationally representative sample of sophomores in 1990 in addition to the nationally representative sample of eighth graders; these students were re-interviewed in 1992 and 1994.
A comparison of cohort dropout rates from the 1980 and 1990 sophomore classes shows that 9.9 percent of the students who were sophomores in 1980 were high school dropouts by August of the 1981-82 school year (table 12)./14 For the sophomore class of 1990, the cohort dropout rate was lower, with 5.6 percent of the students who were sophomores in 1990 counted as dropouts by August of the 1991-92 school year. This amounts to a 43 percent reduction in the sophomore to senior dropout rate over the decade./15
The cohort dropout rates improved
for both male and female students, as well as for white, black, and Hispanic
students. In 1982 and 1992, dropout rates were lowest for students living
with both of their parents; but the dropout rates did decrease for all
students, regardless of whether both parents were present in their home. In
1992 about 18 percent of the female students with a child at home dropped out
of high school and although this number was apparently less than the 33
percent in 1982, the difference was not significant.
In both 1982 and 1992, dropouts cited failing grades and a dislike for school as important factors in their decisions to leave school./16, 17 (table 13) Especially for female dropouts, pregnancy was a significant contributing factor. Marriage was also a key factor in 1982 but not as much in 1992, as the percentage of female dropouts who reported leaving school because of marriage declined. In order to better understand the success, and unfortunately in some cases failure, that young adults experience in today's society, the analysis included in this year's report focuses on some of the activities and outcomes experienced by the 1988 eighth grade cohort.