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

Indicator 2: Status Dropout Rate (CPS)

The status dropout rate is the number of 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and have not earned a high school credential as a percentage of the total number of civilian, noninstitutionalized 16- to 24-year-olds. This indicator presents status dropout rates based on data from the Current Population Survey (CPS). The status dropout rates discussed here differ from the status dropout rates discussed in indicator 3, which are based on data from the American Community Survey (ACS). CPS data have been collected annually for decades, allowing for the analysis of long-term trends for the civilian, noninstitutionalized population. ACS data are available only for more recent years, although they cover a broader population.

The status dropout rate is different from the event dropout rate (see Indicator 1); the status dropout rate includes all dropouts in a particular age range, regardless of when or where they last attended school, including individuals who may have never attended school in the United States,1 whereas the event dropout rate includes individuals in a particular age range who left a U.S. high school within a particular 1-year period.

Total status dropout rates

In October 2016, approximately 2.3 million 16- to 24-year-olds were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential. These high school dropouts accounted for 6.1 percent of the 38.4 million noninstitutionalized, civilian 16- to 24-year-olds living in the United States (figure 2.1 and table 2.1). Over the past 40 years, status dropout rates have trended downward, declining from 14.1 percent in 19762 to 6.1 percent in 2016 (figure 2.2 and table 2.2). During the most recent ten year period, the status dropout rate decreased from 9.3 in 2006 to 6.1 percent in 2016.


Figure 2.1. Percentage of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status dropout rate), by selected characteristics: October 2016

Figure 2.1. Percentage of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status 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.
NOTE: “Status” dropouts are 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and who have not completed a high school program, regardless of when they left school. People who received an alternative credential such as a GED are counted as high school completers. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. For 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. Individuals identified as having a disability reported difficulty in 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 Population Survey (CPS), October 2016. See tables 2.1 and 2.3.


Status dropout rates by race/ethnicity

In 2016, the status dropout rate for Asian 16- to 24-year-olds (2.9 percent) was lower than the rate for their American Indian/Alaska Native (18.2 percent), Pacific Islander (18.2 percent), Hispanic (8.6 percent), Black (6.2 percent), and White (5.2 percent) peers (figure 2.1 and table 2.1). There was no measurable difference between the status dropout rates for White and Black 16- to 24-year-olds, which were both lower than the Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native rates. In addition, the status dropout rate for Hispanic individuals was lower than the rate for American Indian/Alaska Native individuals.


Figure 2.2. Percentage of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status dropout rate), by race/ethnicity: October 1976 through 2016

Figure 2.2. Percentage of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status dropout rate), by race/ethnicity: October 1976 through 2016

1 Includes other racial/ethnic groups not separately shown.
NOTE: “Status” dropouts are 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and who have not completed a high school program, regardless of when they left school. People who received an alternative credential such as a GED are counted as high school completers. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. White and Black exclude persons of Two or more races after 2002. 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). Because of changes in data collection procedures, data for years 1992 and later may not be comparable with figures for years prior to 1992.
SOURCE:U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October, 1976 through 2016. See table 2.2.


Between 1976 and 2016, status dropout rates decreased for White, Black, and Hispanic 16- to 24-year-olds (figure 2.2 and table 2.2). During this time period, the White status dropout rate decreased from 12.0 percent to 5.2 percent, the Black status dropout rate decreased from 20.5 percent to 6.2 percent, and the Hispanic status dropout rate decreased from 31.4 percent to 8.6 percent. Between 2006 and 2016, status dropout rates decreased for Black and Hispanic 16- to 24-year-olds (from 10.7 percent to 6.2 percent and from 22.1 percent to 8.6 percent, respectively), while the rate for White 16- to 24-year-olds showed no measurable change.

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. The White status dropout rate was consistently lower than the Hispanic rate between 1976 and 2016, but the gap decreased from 19.4 percentage points in 1976 to 3.4 percentage points in 2016.

Status dropout rates by sex

In 2016, the status dropout rate was higher for male 16- to 24-year-olds (7.1 percent) than for female 16- to 24-year-olds (5.1 percent; figure 2.1 and table 2.1). The downward trend in the overall status dropout rate from 1976 to 2016 was also observed for both male (from 14.1 to 7.1 percent) and female 16- to 24-year-olds (from 14.2 to 5.1 percent; table 2.2).

Status dropout rates by race/ethnicity and sex

In 2016, the overall pattern of a higher status dropout rate for males than for females was also observed for White (5.8 vs. 4.6 percent), Black (8.2 vs. 4.3 percent), and Hispanic (10.1 vs. 7.0 percent) 16- to 24-year-olds (table 2.1). No measurable differences between male and female status dropout rates were observed for 16- to 24-year-olds who were Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native, or of Two or more races.3

Status dropout rates by family income quarter

In 2016, the status dropout rate was highest for 16- to 24-year-olds in the lowest family income quarter (9.7 percent), followed by those in the middle low quarter (7.3 percent), those in the middle high quarter (5.4 percent), and those in the highest quarter (2.6 percent; figure 2.1 and table 2.3).4 Between 1976 and 2016, the status dropout rate decreased for individuals from all family income quarters, and the gap between the highest and lowest quarters narrowed from 23.3 percentage points in 1976 to 7.0 percentage points in 2016.

Status dropout rates by disability status

The status dropout rate for 16- to 24-year-olds with disabilities in 2016 (12.4 percent) was higher than the rate for their peers without disabilities (5.8 percent; figure 2.1 and table 2.1).


Figure 2.3. Percentage of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status dropout rate), by recency of immigration and ethnicity: October 2016

Figure 2.3. Percentage of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status dropout rate), by recency of immigration and ethnicity: October 2016

NOTE: “Status” dropouts are 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and who have not completed a high school program, regardless of when they left school. People who received an alternative credential such as a GED are counted as high school completers. United States refers to the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. Children born abroad to U.S.-citizen parents are counted as born in the United States. “First generation” individuals were born in the United States, but one or both of their parents were born outside the United States. “Second generation or higher” individuals were born in the United States, as were both of their parents. 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 2.1.


Status dropout rates by recency of immigration

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 second-generation or higher Hispanics (figure 2.3 and table 2.1).5 Among non-Hispanics, the status dropout rates for individuals who were second generation or higher (5.7 percent) was higher than the rate for individuals who were first generation (3.1 percent), but not measurably different from the rate for individuals who were born outside the United States (4.6 percent).

For 16- to 24-year-olds born outside of the United States, Hispanics had a higher status dropout rate (15.9 percent) than their non-Hispanic peers (4.6 percent). Also, first-generation Hispanics had a higher status dropout rate (6.4 percent) than first-generation non-Hispanics (3.1 percent). However, the status dropout rate for Hispanics who were second generation or higher (6.6 percent) was not measurably different from the rate for non-Hispanics who were second generation or higher (5.7 percent).

Status dropout rates by age

In 2016, the status dropout rate for 16-year-olds (4.9 percent) was lower than the rate for 20- to 24-year-olds (6.4 percent; table 2.1). However, no other measurable differences in status dropout rates were observed among individuals who were 16, 17, 18, 19, or 20 to 24 years old.

Status dropout rates by region

The status dropout rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in the Northeast (4.4 percent) was lower than the rate for their peers in the South (6.8 percent), Midwest (6.5 percent), and West in 2016 (5.8 percent; table 2.1).


Figure 2.4. Percentage of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status dropout rate), by labor force status: October 1976 through 2016

Figure 2.4. Percentage of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status dropout rate), by labor force status: October 1976 through 2016

NOTE: “Status” dropouts are 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and who have not completed a high school program, regardless of when they left school. People who received an alternative credential such as a GED are counted as high school completers. Data are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutionalized population. The rates reported in this figure are not the same as official employment and unemployment rates released by Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data for 1988 is missing.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October, 1976 through 2016. See table 2.3.


Distribution of status dropouts, by labor force status

Among 16- to 24-year-olds who were status dropouts in 2016, some 13.9 percent were unemployed, 39.6 percent were not in the labor force, and 46.6 percent were employed (figure 2.4 and table 2.3). These percentages are not comparable to unemployment rates produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since those data exclude individuals who were not in the labor force. There was no measurable difference between the 1976 and 2016 percentages of status dropouts who were employed. Between 2006 and 2016, however, the percentage of status dropouts who were employed decreased from 56.4 percent to 46.6 percent.


Figure 2.5. Percentage distribution of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status dropout rate), by years of school completed: Selected years, October 1976 through 2016

Figure 2.5. Percentage distribution of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status dropout rate), by years of school completed: Selected years, October 1976 through 2016

NOTE: “Status” dropouts are 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and who have not completed a high school program, regardless of when they left school. People who received an alternative credential such as a GED are counted as high school completers. Data are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutionalized population.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October, 1976 through 2016. See table 2.3.


Distribution of status dropouts, by years of school completed

In 2016, some 17.6 percent of status dropouts had completed fewer than 9 years of school, 10.8 percent had completed 9 years, 21.9 percent had completed 10 years, and about half (49.7 percent) had completed 11 or 12 years (table 2.3). Between 1976 and 2016, the percentage of status dropouts who had completed fewer than 9 years of school decreased by approximately 7 percentage points, while the percentage of status dropouts who had completed 11 or 12 years increased by approximately 22 percentage points.


1 While useful for measuring overall educational attainment among young adults in the United States, the status dropout rate is limited as an indicator of the performance of schools because it includes those who never attended school in the United States.
2 Because of changes in data collection procedures, data for 1992 and later years may not be comparable with figures for prior years.
3 Reliable estimates were not available for Pacific Islander individuals.
4 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.
5 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).

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