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December 17, 1997

While nearly half-a-million young adults enrolled in 1995 left school by October 1996 without successfully completing a high school program, a new report shows that high school dropout rates have remained stable over the past decade.

"The dropout rate is holding at around five percent," said U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. "This means that some 500,000 young people are still short-changing their lives and dropping out."

According to the report, Hispanics continue to drop out at higher rates than other groups. In 1996, nine percent of Hispanics left school before completing a high school program, compared to 6.7 percent for blacks and 4.1 percent for whites. The cumulative impact of higher annual dropout rates for Hispanics, coupled with the fact that one-third of the Hispanic immigrants who came to the U.S. without a high school credential had not entered U.S. schools by 1995, results in an even larger disparity in the percentage of Hispanic adults out of school without high school credentials.

In 1996, four times more Hispanic than white young adults were in this group -- 29.4 percent compared to 7.3 percent. Also, a lower percentage of Hispanics complete high school, 62 percent, compared to 91.5 percent for whites and 83 percent for blacks.

"The president and I are particularly concerned about the number of Hispanic Americans who are dropping out. I am working with the White House and the President's Initiative on Race to develop a series of steps that we can take to better address this troubling problem," Riley said.

Dropout Rates in the United States: 1996, released today by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, provides state and regional data, examines high school completion rates, and also provides data on how income levels affect the number of dropouts.

Young adults living in families with incomes in the lowest 20 percent of all family incomes were five times as likely as their peers from families in the top 20 percent of the income distribution to drop out of high school, according to the report. Two thirds of this gap was due to differences between students in the lowest and middle income groups.

The report also found that more young adults are completing high school through alternative methods, such as the GED. The percent of young adults who are out of school without a high school credential has decreased, indicating that although the percentage leaving has not changed, some of the young adults who dropped out have subsequently earned a high school credential.

"Alternative programs that give young people a second chance are a growing phenomena. We need to develop more high quality alternative programs that meet this rising demand. Young people at risk shouldn't just be left on their own to hang out on the street. New attention needs to be paid to finding ways to encourage many more dropouts to drop back in to school so that they have a real chance at living a decent life. When young people drop out they do more than just give up their education, they are too often giving up on themselves ," Riley said.

  The reports says that in 1996 two million young adults 18 through 24 years of age had earned high school credentials by passing an exam such as the GED test. Data on this were first collected in 1988. Between 1988 and 1993, the graduation rate fluctuated between 80 and 81 percent, and the alternative completion rate fluctuated between four and five percent. Since 1993, the graduation rate decreased nearly five percentage points to the 1996 rate of 76.4 percent, and the alternative completion rate increased by the same amount (4.9 percent).

Other findings from the report include:

  • Five out of every 100 young adults enrolled in high school in 1995 left school before October 1996 without successfully completing a high school program. This is on par with other estimates over the past 10 years;

  • During the 1990s, the percent of young adults, not still enrolled, holding a high school credential has remained relatively unchanged; however, the percent holding an alternative certification has doubled from 4.9 percent in 1990 to 9.8 percent in 1996;

  • In 1996, just over three-quarters of the 18- through 24-year-olds not still in high school were reported as high school graduates (76.4 percent); however, another 10 percent of these youths were reported as having completed high school by an alternative route, such as the GED;

  • Thirteen states currently have high school completion rates of 90 percent or better. Connecticut showed the greatest increase during the 1990s, from 90.9 percent to 96.1 percent (table 15);

  • In October 1996, 1 out of every 10 youths ages 15-24 enrolled in school was over 18, but dropouts from this older group of students accounted for 1 out of every 4 high school dropouts in 1996. Thus, students who pursue a high school program beyond the traditional ages are at an increased risk of dropping out;

  • High cumulative dropout rates in the South of 13 percent and 13.9 percent in the West are greater than the dropout rates of 8.3 percent in the Northeast and 7.7 percent in the Midwest (table 5);

  • When the above cumulative dropout rates are reviewed across regions for each racial-ethnic group, Hispanics exceed the national dropout rates in each region (table 10);

  • The South is the only region in which the dropout rate for white youths exceeds the national dropout rate for white youths (10 percent versus 7.3 percent).

For ordering information, call the National Library of Education, (800) 424-1616.

Copies of Dropout Rates in the United States: 1996 will be also be available on the National Center for Education Statistics Web site at

Link To:
Dropout Rates in the United States: 1996 (Report)