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Dropout Rates in the United States: 2000

High School Completion Rates

The relative importance of a high school education has changed dramatically over the last half century in the United States. When the grandparents of today's high school students entered adulthood, a high school education was an asset in the labor force, held by about half of the population ages 25 through 29 in 195021. By the early 1970s, when the parents of today's high school students entered the workforce, about 83 to 84 percent of the population ages 18 through 24 who were not enrolled in high school had completed high school (figure 3 and table B7). At that time, a high school education still served as an entryway to a number of promising career paths. Now, three decades later, technological advances in the workplace have increased the demand for a skilled labor force to the point where a high school education serves more as a minimum requirement for entry into the labor force. Completing a high school education is now even more essential in order to access additional education and training for the labor force.

In previous editions of this series of dropout reports, this section on high school completion rates reported not only overall completion rates, but also the method of completion-graduation by diploma or completion by taking an alternative exam such as the General Educational Development (GED) exam. However, examination of changes in the CPS GED items in the October 2000 school enrollment supplement indicates that the GED estimates from CPS for 2000 are not comparable with earlier data. These data are therefore not presented in this report.

High School Completion Rates

The high school completion rate represents the proportion of 18- through 24-year- olds who have left high school and earned a high school diploma or the equivalent, including a General Educational Development credential22. Despite the increased importance of a high school education, the high school completion rate for the nation has increased only slightly over the last three decades. Between 1972 and 1985, high school completion rates climbed by 2.6 percentage points (from 82.8 percent in 1972 to 85.4 percent in 1985); since 1985, the rate has shown no consistent trend and has fluctuated between 85 and 87 percent (figure 3 and table B7). This net increase of about 3 percentage points over 29 years represents slow progress toward improving the national high school completion rate.

21. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics 2000, NCES 2001-034, (table 8) by T. Snyder and C. Hoffman (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001).

22. The high school completion rate is based on the population of young adults ages 18 through 24 who are no longer enrolled in high school or below; the status dropout rate is based on the population ages 16 through 24. Thus, the age range of the status dropout rate is 2 years wider, and those 18- through 24-year-olds who are still enrolled in a high school program are excluded from the calculation of the high school completion rate. Because of these differences, the status dropout rate and the high school completion rate are not the simple inverse of each other.