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Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States

Selected Findings

This report provides the most recent year of data available for each dropout and completion rate, summarizes long-term trends, and examines the characteristics of high school dropouts and completers. Five rates are presented to provide a broad perspective on high school dropouts and completers in the United States: the event dropout rate, the status dropout rate, the status completion rate, the adjusted cohort graduation rate, and the averaged freshman graduation rate. The report also provides information about individuals who completed an alternative high school credential.

The following selected findings are drawn from each section of the report.

Indicator 1: Current Population Survey (CPS) Event Dropout Rate

  • Between October 2015 and October 2016, approximately 532,000 15- to 24-year-olds left school without obtaining a high school credential. These event dropouts accounted for 4.8 percent of the 11.2 million 15- to 24-year-olds enrolled in grades 10 through 12 in 2016 (figure 1.1 and table 1.1).
  • In 2016, the event dropout rate for 15- to 24-year-olds from families in the lowest income quarter1 (7.2 percent) was higher than the rates for those from families in the middle high income quarter (3.6 percent) and the highest income quarter (3.9 percent; figure 1.1 and table 1.1).

Indicator 2: Current Population Survey (CPS) Status Dropout Rate

  • The status dropout rate, as measured using the Current Population Survey, is the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and have not earned a high school credential. Over the past 40 years, status dropout rates have trended downward, declining from 14.1 percent in 1976 to 6.1 percent in 2016 (figure 2.2 and table 2.2).
  • The status dropout rate for White 16- to 24-year olds was consistently lower than the rate for their Black peers between 1976 and 2015 (figure 2.2 and table 2.2). The White-Black gap in status dropout rates was 8.5 percentage points in 1976 and 1.9 percentage points in 2015. However, in 2016, for the first time during the 40-year period examined in this report, there was no measurable gap between White and Black status dropout rates.
  • In 2016, Hispanics born in the United States had a lower status dropout rate than Hispanics born outside the United States. Some 15.9 percent of Hispanic 16- to 24-year-olds born outside the United States were status dropouts, compared with 6.4 percent of “first-generation” Hispanics and 6.6 percent of Hispanics who were “second generation or higher” (figure 2.3 and table 2.1).2

Indicator 3: American Community Survey (ACS) Status Dropout Rate

  • As measured using data from the 2016 American Community Survey, the status dropout rate for all 16- to 24-year-olds was 5.8 percent (figure 3.1 and table 3.1).3
  • The ACS status dropout rate in 2016 was higher for 16- to 24-year-olds who were American Indian/Alaska Native (11.0 percent), Hispanic (9.1 percent), Black (7.0 percent), and Pacific Islander (6.9 percent) than for those who were of Two or more races (4.8 percent), White (4.5 percent), and Asian (2.0 percent; figure 3.1 and table 3.1).
  • ACS status dropout rates varied across Hispanic subpopulations. In 2016, status dropout rates for Guatemalan (22.9 percent), Honduran (16.7 percent), and Salvadoran individuals (13.3 percent) were higher than the total Hispanic status dropout rate (9.1 percent). In contrast, status dropout rates for Spaniard (6.5 percent), Ecuadorian (6.1 percent), Cuban (5.4 percent), Venezuelan (3.3 percent), Colombian (2.9 percent), and Peruvian individuals (2.4 percent) were lower than the total Hispanic status dropout rate (figure 3.3 and table 3.1).
  • In 2016, the ACS status dropout rates also varied across Asian subpopulations. The status dropout rate for Burmese individuals (29.7 percent) was higher than the total Asian rate (2.0 percent). Status dropout rates for individuals of Korean (0.7 percent) and Chinese (0.8 percent) descent were lower than the total Asian rate (figure 3.4 and table 3.1).
  • In 2016, the ACS status dropout rate for female 16- to 24-year-olds (4.7 percent) was lower than the rate for their male peers (6.8 percent; figure 3.5 and table 3.1).

Indicator 4: Current Population Survey (CPS) Status Completion Rate

  • The status completion rate is the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who have left high school and who hold a high school credential.4 Of the 28.0 million 18- to 24-year-olds who were not enrolled in high school in October 2016, approximately 26.1 million (92.9 percent) held a high school diploma or an alternative credential (figure 4.1 and table 4.1). From 1976 to 2016, the status completion rate increased from 83.5 percent to 92.9 percent (figure 4.2 and table 4.2). Among Hispanic young adults, the 2016 status completion rate for those who were foreign born was 79.8 percent, which was lower than the rates for those who were first generation (92.0 percent) and those who were second generation or higher (92.2 percent; figure 4.3 and table 4.1).
  • In 2016, the status completion rate for 18- to 24-year-olds with disabilities was lower than that of their peers without disabilities (83.8 vs. 93.3 percent; figure 4.1 and table 4.1).

Indicator 5: Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate

  • The adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) provides information about the percentage of public high school students who graduate on time (i.e., 4 years after starting 9th grade for the first time) with a regular diploma.5 Over the first 6 years the ACGR was collected (2010–11 through 2015–16), the rate increased from 79 percent to 84 percent (table 5.1).
  • In 2015–16, the state-level ACGRs ranged from 69 percent in the District of Columbia to 91 percent in Iowa.6 More than two-thirds of states (36) reported graduation rates that were greater than or equal to 80 percent, but less than 90 percent.7
  • In 2015–16, the ACGRs for American Indian/Alaska Native (72 percent), Black (76 percent), and Hispanic (79 percent) public high school students were below the national average of 84 percent. The ACGRs for White (88 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islander8 (91 percent) students were above the national average (figure 5.2 and table 5.1).

Indicator 6: Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate)

  • The national averaged freshman graduation rate, an estimated 4-year graduation rate calculated using aggregated enrollment and diploma counts, was 82 percent in 2012–13, the most recent year for which data are available (figure 6.1 and table 6.1).9
  • In 2012–13, the AFGR across states ranged from 68 percent in Nevada and Mississippi to 93 percent in Nebraska and Wisconsin (table 6.2).

Indicator 7: Alternative High School Credentials

  • In 2013, the GED was offered in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and some U.S. territories and freely associated states. Of the individuals who completed the entire battery of tests, 541,000 (76 percent) passed the entire battery (figure 7.1).
  • In 2015, the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) exam was offered in 16 states. Of the individuals who completed the entire battery of tests, 27,000 (58 percent) passed the entire battery (figure 7.2 and table 7.1).
  • In 2015, the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) was offered in five states. Of the individuals who completed the entire battery of tests, 26,000 (60 percent) passed the entire battery (figure 7.3; table 7.1).

1 For the family income categories, lowest quarter refers to family incomes at or below the 25th percentile of all family incomes; middle low quarter refers to the 26th through the 50th percentile of all family incomes; middle high quarter refers to the 51st through the 75th percentile of all family incomes; and highest quarter refers to family incomes above the 75th percentile.
2 The following recency of immigration categories are used in this analysis: (1) individuals born outside the United States (those who were born abroad to U.S.-citizen parents are counted as born in the United States); (2) first-generation individuals (those who were born in the United States but have at least one parent born outside the United States); and (3) individuals who are second generation or higher (those who were born in the United States and whose parents were both born in the United States).
3 The ACS status dropout rate is the estimate for the overall population, whereas the CPS status dropout rate focuses on the civilian noninstitutionalized population.
4 A high school diploma or an alternative credential, such as a GED.
5 Those students who were awarded an alternate credential, such as a GED, are not included as graduates in the ACGR calculations.
6 Alabama’s data, including data by racial/ethnic groups, are not included in this indicator. The Alabama State Department of Education indicated that their ACGR data were misstated. For more information, please see the following press release issued by the state: https://www.alsde.edu/sec/comm/News%20Releases/12-08-2016%20Graduation%20Rate%20Review.pdf.
7 Based on unrounded graduation rates.
8 Reporting practices for data on Asian and Pacific Islander students varied by state. Asian/Pacific Islander data in this indicator represent either the value reported by the state for the “Asian/Pacific Islander” group or an aggregation of separate values reported by the state for “Asian” and “Pacific Islander.” “Pacific Islander” includes the “Filipino” group, which only California and Utah report separately.
9 The AFGR is available for school years 1969–70 through 2012–13. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 219.10.