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

Indicator 1: Event Dropout Rate (CPS)

The event dropout rate is the percentage of 15- to 24-year-olds in grades 10 through 12 who leave high school between the beginning of one school year and the beginning of the next without earning a high school diploma or an alternative credential such as a GED. The event dropout rate provides information about the rate at which U.S. high school students are leaving school without receiving a high school credential. The measure can be used to study student experiences in the U.S. secondary school system in a given year. The status dropout rates presented in indicators 2 and 3, on the other hand, focus on the educational attainment of the overall 16- to 24-year-old population in the United States, regardless of when or where they attended school.

The event dropout rates presented in this indicator are based on data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS). CPS data have been collected annually for decades, allowing for the analysis of long-term trends. Many of the event dropout rate estimates are based on responses from a relatively small number of survey respondents. As a result, some differences that seem substantial are not statistically significant.

Total event dropout rates

Between October 2015 and October 2016, the number of 15- to 24-year-olds who left school without obtaining a high school credential was approximately 532,000. 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). Over the preceding 40 years, the event dropout rate trended downward overall, from 5.9 percent in 1976,1 although fluctuations in the rate have occurred. For example, during the most recent ten year period, the event dropout rate increased from 3.8 percent in 2006 to 4.8 percent in 2016 (figure 1.2 and table 1.2).


Figure 1.1. Percentage of grade 10–12 dropouts among persons 15 through 24 years old (event dropout rate), by selected characteristics: October 2016

Figure 1.1. Percentage of grade 10–12 dropouts among persons 15 through 24 years old (event dropout rate), by selected characteristics: October 2016

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
‡ Reporting standards not met. Either there are too few cases for a reliable estimate or the coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater.
NOTE: The event dropout rate is the percentage of youth ages 15 to 24 who dropped out of grades 10–12 between one October and the next (e.g., October 2015 to October 2016). Dropping out is defined as leaving school without a high school diploma or an alternative credential such as a GED. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. For the family income categories, lowest quarter refers to family incomes at or below the 25 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. Individuals identified as having a disability reported difficulty with at least one of the following: hearing, seeing even when wearing glasses, walking or climbing stairs, dressing or bathing, doing errands alone, concentrating, remembering, or making decisions. Data are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutionalized population, which excludes persons in the military and persons living in institutions (e.g., prisons or nursing facilities).
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October 2016. See table 1.1.


Event dropout rates by race/ethnicity

In 2016, there was no measurable difference between the event dropout rates for Black (5.9 percent), Hispanic (4.7 percent), White (4.5 percent), and Asian (3.6 percent) 15- to 24-year-olds (figure 1.1 and table 1.1). The 2016 event dropout rate for American Indian/Alaska Native individuals (17.3 percent) was higher than the rates for their White, Hispanic, and Asian peers, but it was not measurably different from the rate for their Black peers (5.9 percent).2


Figure 1.2. Percentage of grade 10–12 dropouts among persons 15 through 24 years old (event dropout rate), by race/ethnicity: October 1976 through 2016

Figure 1.2. Percentage of grade 10–12 dropouts among persons 15 through 24 years old (event dropout rate), by race/ethnicity: October 1976 through 2016

1 Includes other racial/ethnic categories not separately shown.
NOTE: The event dropout rate is the percentage of youth ages 15 to 24 who dropped out of grades 10–12 between one October and the next (e.g., October 2015 to October 2016). Dropping out is defined as leaving school without a high school diploma or an alternative credential such as a GED. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. White and Black exclude persons of Two or more races after 2002. Because of changes in data collection procedures, data for 1992 and later years may not be comparable with figures for prior years. Some estimates differ from those in previously published reports because of data updates. Data are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutionalized population, which excludes persons in the military and persons living in institutions (e.g., prisons or nursing facilities).
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October, 1976 through 2016. See table 1.2.


The event dropout rates for White, Black, and Hispanic 15- to 24-year-olds in 2016 were not measurably different from their corresponding rates in 1976 (figure 1.2 and table 1.2). In addition, the event dropout rates for Black and Hispanic 15- to 24-year-olds in 2016 were not measurably different from their corresponding rates in 2006; however, the White event dropout rate was higher in 2016 (4.5 percent) than in 2006 (2.9 percent).

Event dropout rates by sex

The 2016 event dropout rates for 15- to 24-year-old males and females were 5.4 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively; however, the apparent difference between the rates was not statistically significant (figure 1.1 and table 1.2). Over the past 40 years, there generally have been no measurable differences between the event dropout rates for male and female 15- to 24-year-olds (table 1.2). Exceptions to this pattern occurred in the years 1976, 1978, 2000, and 2001; in each of these years, the event dropout rate for males was measurably higher than the rate for females.

Event dropout rates by family income

In 2016, the event dropout rate for 15- to 24-year-olds from families in the lowest income quarter (7.2 percent) was not measurably different from the rate for those from families in the middle low income quarter (5.3 percent), but 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).3 There were no measurable differences among the event dropout rates for 15- to 24-year-olds from families in the middle low, middle high, and highest income quarters.

Event dropout rates by disability status

The 2016 event dropout rate for 15- to 24-year-olds with disabilities (6.7 percent) was not measurably different from the rate for their peers without disabilities (4.7 percent; figure 1.1 and table 1.1).

Event dropout rates by age

The event dropout rates by age group—5.3 percent for 15- to 16-year-olds, 3.8 percent for 17-year-olds, 5.2 percent for 18-year-olds, 4.5 percent for 19-year-olds, and 7.4 percent for 20- through 24-year-olds—were not measurably different from each other in 2016 (table 1.1).

Event dropout rates by region

In 2016, event dropout rates in the United States were not measurably different among the four geographic regions defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Event dropout rates were 5.2 percent in the South, 4.8 percent in the West, 4.4 percent in the Midwest, and 4.2 percent in the Northeast (table 1.1).


1 Because of changes in data collection procedures, data for 1992 and later years may not be comparable with figures for prior years.
2 Reliable estimates were not available for Pacific Islander individuals or individuals of Two or more races.
3 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.

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