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Education Statistics Quarterly
Vol 6, Issue 4, Topic: Elementary and Secondary Education
Dropout Rates in the United States: 2001
By: Phillip Kaufman, Martha Naomi Alt, and Christopher D. Chapman
This article was originally published as the Executive Summary of the Statistical Analysis Report of the same name. The sample survey data are from the Current Population Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.  

This report is the latest in a series of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports on high school dropout and completion rates that began in 1988. It presents estimates of rates in 2001, and includes time series data on high school dropout and completion rates for the period 1972 through 2001. In addition to extending time series data reported in earlier years, the report examines the characteristics of high school dropouts and high school completers in 2001. It shows that while progress was made during the 1970s and 1980s in reducing high school dropout rates and increasing high school completion rates, these rates have since stagnated. The report includes four rates to provide a broad picture of high school dropouts and completers in the United States: the event dropout rate, the status dropout rate, the status completion rate, and the 4-year completion rate. Each rate, defined in the sections that follow, provides unique information about the state of high school education.

Event Dropout Rates

Event dropout rates indicate the percentage of students who dropped out of school over a relatively short period of time. They are useful for studying the possible effects of particular phenomena, or events, on the propensity to drop out. Such events might include the introduction of new education policies or changes in economic conditions.

The event dropout rates presented in this report estimate the percentage of high school students who dropped out of high school between the beginning of one school year and the beginning of the next. Using data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), event dropout rates are presented that describe the percentage of youth ages 15 through 24 who dropped out of grades 10-12. Demographic data collected in the CPS permit event dropout rates to be calculated across various individual characteristics, including race/ethnicity, sex, region of residence, and income level.

  • Five out of every 100 students enrolled in high school in October 2000 left school before October 2001 without successfully completing a high school program. The percentage of students who were event dropouts decreased from 1972 through 1987.1 However, despite some year-to-year fluctuations, the percentage of students dropping out of school each year has stayed relatively flat since 1987 (table A and figure A).
  • From 1990 through 2001, between 347,000 and 544,000 students in grades 10 through 12 left school each year without successfully completing a high school program.
  • In 2001, students living in low-income families were six times more likely than their peers in high-income families to drop out of high school over the 1-year period of October 2000 to 2001. (Low income is defined as the lowest 20 percent of all family incomes, while high income refers to the top 20 percent of the income distribution.)
  • About three-fourths (77.3 percent) of event dropouts in 2001 were ages 15 through 18, and about two-fifths (42.5 percent) were ages 15 through 17.
In order to look at variation in event dropout rates at the state level, a second data source is necessary. Using data from the Common Core of Data (CCD), event dropout rates are presented that describe the percentage of public high school students who dropped out of grades 9-12 in the 2000-01 school year.
  • Among those states for which CCD dropout data are available, event dropout rates for public high school students ranged from 2.2 percent to 10.9 percent.

Table A. Percentage of 15- through 24-year-olds who dropped out of grades 10–12 in the past year (event dropout rate), percentage of 16- through 24-year-olds who were dropouts (status dropout rate), and percentage of 18- through 24-year-olds who completed high school (status completion rate), by race/ethnicity: October 2001

Dropout and completion measures Total1 White, non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander
Event dropout rate 5.0 4.1 6.3 8.8 2.3
Status dropout rate 10.7 7.3 10.9 27.0 3.6
Status completion rate2 86.5 91.0 85.6 65.7 96.1

1Due to small sample sizes, American Indians/Alaska Natives are included in the total but are not shown separately.

2Excludes those still enrolled in high school.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey (CPS), October 2001.

Figure A. Percentage of 15- through 24-year-olds who dropped out of grades 10–12 in the past year (event dropout rate), percentage of 16- through 24-year-olds who were dropouts (status dropout rate), and percentage of 18- through 24-year-olds who completed high school (status completion rate): October 1972 through October 2001

Figure A. Percentage of 15- through 24-year-olds who dropped out of grades 10–12 in the past year (event dropout rate), percentage of 16- through  24-year-olds who were dropouts (status dropout rate), and percentage of 18- through 24-year-olds who completed high school (status completion rate): October 1972 through October 2001
1Excludes students still enrolled in high school.

NOTE: Data for 1987 through 2001 reflect new editing procedures instituted by the U.S. Census Bureau for cases with missing data on school enrollment items. Data for 1992 through 2001 reflect new wording of the educational attainment item in the Current Population Survey beginning in 1992. Data for 1994 through 2001 reflect computer-assisted interviewing methods and a change in population controls (adjustment for undercounting) in the 1990 U.S. Census. See appendix C in the full report for a description of the impact of these changes on rates.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey (CPS), October 1972–October 2001.

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Status Dropout Rates

Because event dropout rates look at what happened over a relatively short period of time, they are not well suited for the study of broader and less time-sensitive educational issues such as the general educational attainment level of a population. For example, an event dropout rate can indicate how many people dropped out last year, but cannot show how many Americans lack a basic high school education more generally. Status dropout rates are better suited to study more general questions of educational attainment.

Status dropout rates measure the percentage of individuals who are not enrolled in high school and who lack a high school credential, irrespective of when they dropped out. Using data from the CPS, status dropout rates show the percentage of young people ages 16 through 24 who are out of school and who have not earned a high school credential (either diploma or equivalency credential such as a General Educational Development [GED] certificate). Status rates are higher than event rates because they include all dropouts in this age range, regardless of when they last attended school, as well as individuals who may have never attended school in the United States (for example, immigrants who did not complete a high school diploma in their home country).

  • In October 2001, some 3.8 million 16- through 24-year-olds were not enrolled in a high school program and had not completed high school (status dropouts). These individuals accounted for 10.7 per-cent of the 35.2 million 16- through 24-year-olds in the United States in 2001 (table A). As noted with event rates, this estimate is consistent with the estimates reported over the last 10 years (figure A).
  • The status dropout rate of Whites2 remains lower than that of Blacks, but over the past 30 years the difference between the rates of Whites and Blacks has narrowed. However, this narrowing of the gap occurred during the 1980s; since 1990, the gap between Whites and Blacks has remained fairly constant. In addition, Hispanics in the United States continued to have relatively high status dropout rates when compared to Whites, Blacks, or Asians/Pacific Islanders (table A).
  • In 2001, the status dropout rate for Asians/Pacific Islanders ages 16-24 was lower than for other 16- through 24-year-olds. The status rate for Asians/Pacific Islanders was 3.6 percent, compared with 27.0 percent for Hispanics, 10.9 percent for Blacks, and 7.3 percent for Whites (table A).
  • In 2001, 43.4 percent of Hispanic 16- through 24-year-olds born outside of the United States were high school dropouts. Hispanics born in the United States were much less likely to be dropouts. Regardless of when the youth or their families immigrated to the United States, Hispanic youth were more likely to be dropouts than their counterparts of other racial and ethnic groups.
Sample size limitations on the CPS prohibit the development of state-level status dropout rate estimates. Unfortunately, there are no good alternative sources of data available to calculate state-level status dropout rates on an annual basis.

Status Completion Rates

Status completion rates measure the percentage of a given population that has a high school credential, regardless of when the credential was earned. Using data from the CPS, status completion rates are presented that show the percentage of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who hold a high school credential. Credentials include regular and alternative diplomas as well as equivalent credentials such as the GED certificate. Those still enrolled in high school are excluded from the equation.3

  • In 2001, 86.5 percent of 18- through 24-year-olds not enrolled in elementary or secondary school had completed high school. Between 1972 and 1990, status completion rates increased by 2.8 percentage points from 82.8 percent in 1972 to 85.6 percent in 1990; since 1991, the rate has shown no consistent trend and has fluctuated between 84.8 and 86.5 percent.
  • High school status completion rates for White and Black young adults increased between the early 1970s and 1990 but have remained relatively flat since 1990. In 2001, 91.0 percent of White and 85.6 percent of Black 18- through 24-year-olds had completed high school (table A).
  • Whites and Asians/Pacific Islanders in 2001 were more likely than their Black and Hispanic peers to have completed high school (table A).
4-Year Completion Rates

Four-year completion rates report the percentage of ninth-grade students who left school over a subsequent 4-year period and who did so with a high school credential. Put simply, it asks, "of those who left school, what proportion did so as a completer?" Similar to the status completion rate, those who are still enrolled in high school 4 years after entering ninth grade are excluded from the calculation. Using data from the CCD, an annual cross-sectional data collection, 4-year completion rates are presented for public school students at the state level. Students earning a regular diploma and students who meet modified graduation requirements established for special conditions are considered completers. Though considered valid credentials, students earning alternative credentials such as GEDs are not considered completers for this measure.

  • Looking at completers at the end of the 2000-01 school year, the 4-year high school completion rates ranged from 65.0 percent to 90.1 percent among reporting states (table B).

Data Considerations

As with all data collections, those used in this report are useful for calculating some estimates but are poorly suited for calculating other types of estimates. For example, the CPS data are well suited for studying the civilian, noninstitutionalized population residing in the United States. They are not designed to provide information about military personnel or individuals residing in group quarters such as prison inmates. In addition, data from the CCD are well suited for studying the public school student population in a given year. They are not well suited for studying private school students, and because of missing data from some states, are not well suited for studying high school drop-outs at the national level.

Legislation enacted as part of the No Child Left Behind Act has increased interest in being able to study yearly change in high school graduation rates in general, and in on-time public high school graduation rates more specifically. Graduation rates measure the percent of a population holding a regular high school diploma. Measuring such rates requires an analytic ability to separate regular diploma holders from GED recipients and individuals who earn other alternative credentials, and to have a clearly defined population that should be graduates. Existing CPS and CCD data that might be used to develop such rates on an annual basis have important limitations on one or both of these prerequisites. For example, CPS estimates of GED recipients appear to be unreliable, and it is not clear which reference population to use to determine who should be graduates for CCD-based calculations. Such limitations become even more significant for developing on-time graduation rates. NCES is currently working with experts in the field of high school outcomes research to develop graduation rate statistics that can be produced on an annual basis to help address this research need. While there is ongoing research into different measurement approaches, this report does not include statistics on either concept. For additional technical information about the data and rates presented in this report, please see appendix C in the full report.

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1The statistical significance of time trends noted in this report were assessed using weighted least squares regressions. Comparisons among groups in 2001 were assessed using Student's t test, without Bonferroni adjustment (for number of comparisons). In previous reports, Bonferroni adjustments had been applied. This change in statistical testing may lead to tests being significant in this report that were noted as not significant in previous reports. All changes or differences noted in this report are statistically significant at the p .05 level. For a full discussion of the statistical methods used, see appendix C in the full report.

2The racial/ethnic categories used in this report are White, non-Hispanic; Black, non-Hispanic; Hispanic (any race); and Asian/Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic. However, for ease of reading, the shorter terms White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander are sometimes used.

3Status completion rates and status dropout rates presented in this report are not complementary. The status completion rates exclude those still enrolled in high school or below, while the status dropout rates account for these individuals. They are also based on different age groups.

Data source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey (CPS), October 1972-October 2001.

For technical information, see the complete report:

Kaufman, P., Alt, M.N., and Chapman, C.D. (2004). Dropout Rates in the United States: 2001 (NCES 2005-046).

Author affiliations: P. Kaufman, M.N. Alt, MPR Associates, Inc.; C.D. Chapman, NCES.

For questions about content, contact Christopher Chapman (

To obtain the complete report (NCES 2005-046), call the toll-free ED Pubs number (877-433-7827) or visit the NCES Electronic Catalog (

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Table B. Four-year completion rates for 9th-grade public school students, by state: 2000–01

State Total number of completers 4-year completion rate (percent)1
Total Diploma Other completers
   United States 2,616,570 — — —
Alabama 39,613 80.0 74.9 5.1
Alaska 6,829 75.2 75.0 0.2
Arizona3 47,543 68.3 67.2 1.1
Arkansas 29,019 79.1 73.9 5.2
California 316,124 — — —
Colorado 39,370 — — —
Connecticut 30,435 86.6 86.5 0.1
Delaware 6,712 81.6 80.4 1.2
District of Columbia4 3,043 — — —
Florida4 115,522 — — —
Georgia 69,215 71.1 64.2 6.9
Hawaii 10,323 77.7 76.0 1.7
Idaho3 16,101 76.9 76.5 0.4
Illinois 110,624 75.8 75.8 †
Indiana 60,464 — — —
Iowa 33,909 89.2 88.9 0.4
Kansas 29,360 — — —
Kentucky4 37,293 79.9 79.2 0.7
Louisiana 39,296 65.0 63.4 1.6
Maine 12,129 86.5 86.4 0.1
Maryland 49,569 83.2 82.6 0.6
Massachusetts 54,393 86.3 86.3 †
Michigan 97,124 — — —
Minnesota 56,550 82.5 82.5 †
Mississippi 25,762 77.3 71.3 6.0
Missouri 54,198 81.0 80.9 0.1
Montana 10,628 82.1 82.1 †
Nebraska 19,738 83.9 83.2 0.7
Nevada 15,880 73.5 70.3 3.1
New Hampshire4 12,294 — — —
New Jersey 75,948 88.0 88.0 †
New Mexico 18,354 74.4 73.8 0.6
New York 147,305 81.6 78.6 3.0
North Carolina4 63,954 — — —
North Dakota 8,445 90.1 90.1 †
Ohio 113,973 81.0 77.3 3.7
Oklahoma 37,448 79.2 79.2 †
Oregon 33,713 76.4 70.4 6.0
Pennsylvania 114,436 84.0 84.0 †
Rhode Island 8,617 79.8 79.7 0.1
South Carolina4 30,577 — — —
South Dakota 8,881 84.6 84.6 †
Tennessee 44,663 79.5 72.4 7.2
Texas4 215,316 — — —
Utah 31,214 82.6 82.2 0.4
Vermont 6,876 81.9 81.6 0.2
Virginia 68,593 83.8 80.7 3.1
Washington4 55,337 — — —
West Virginia 18,452 83.4 83.3 0.1
Wisconsin5 59,341 90.0 90.0 —
Wyoming5 6,067 76.5 76.5 —

† Not applicable; state does not award this type of credential.

1The 4-year completion rate is calculated by dividing the number of high school completers in a given year by the number of high school completers in that year and dropouts over the preceding 4-year period.

2Includes regular and other diplomas as well as other completers, but does not include high school equivalencies (e.g., GED).

3Values for 1 year of the 4-year completion rate denominator are imputed.

4States that reported completers but not 4 consecutive years of dropout data cannot have a 4-year high school completion rate.

5Other completers data are missing for Wisconsin and Wyoming.

NOTE: See appendix C in the full report for a detailed discussion of the CCD dropout definition. Includes public school students only.

SOURCE: Data are reported by states to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “Local Education Agency Universe Dropout and Completion Data File: School Year 2000–01,” Version 1a. The data in the 2000–01 Version 1a file are preliminary release data. (Originally published as table 5 on pp. 26–27 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

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