Skip Navigation
Dropout Rates in The United States: 2002 and 2003

NCES 2008-053
September 2008

National Status Dropout Rates

The status dropout rate measures the percentage of individuals who are not enrolled in high school and who do not have a high school credential, irrespective of when they dropped out. The status dropout rate is higher than the event rate in a given year because 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. The measure provides an indicator of the proportion of young people who lack a basic high school education. While useful for measuring overall educational attainment among young adults in the United States, the status dropout rate is not useful as an indicator of the performance of schools because the rate includes those who never attended school in the United States. Using data from the CPS, the status dropout rate in this report shows the percentage of young people ages 16 through 24 who are out of school and who have not earned a high school diploma or equivalent credential (e.g., a GED).

  • National status dropout rates: In October 2003, approximately 3.6 million 16- through 24-year-olds were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential such as a GED. These status dropouts accounted for 9.9 percent of the 36 million 16- through 24-year-olds in the United States in 2003 (table 6-A).

    Among all individuals in this age group, status dropout rates declined between 1972 and 2003, from 14.6 percent to 9.9 percent (figure 2 and table 7). Unlike event dropout rates, which have remained relatively stable since 1990, status rates declined over the period between 1990 and 2003.
  • Status dropout rates by sex: Males ages 16-24 were more likely than females to be high school dropouts in 2003 (11.3 percent compared with 8.4 percent) (table 6-A).
  • Status dropout rates by race/ethnicity: The status dropout rate of Whites remained lower than that of Blacks in 2003, but over the past 30 years the difference between Whites and Blacks has narrowed (figure 2 and table 8). This narrowing of the gap occurred during the 1970s and 1980s. Between 1990 and 2003, there was no measurable change in the gap between Whites and Blacks.

    In 2003, Asian/Pacific Islanders ages 16-24 were less likely to be status dropouts than Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics in this age group.11 The percentage of Hispanics ages 16-24 who were dropouts was consistently higher than that of Blacks and Whites throughout this 31-year period (1972-2003; figure 2 and table 8). White and Black status dropout rates have fallen by about half since 1972; the rates for Whites fell from 12.3 to 6.3 percent and the rates for Blacks declined from 21.3 to 10.9 percent. Between 1972 and 2003, Hispanic status dropout rates have fluctuated considerably but also have demonstrated a long-term decline, falling from 34.3 to 23.5 percent.12

    In 2003, 39.4 percent of Hispanic 16- through 24-year-olds born outside of the United States were high school dropouts (table 6-A). Hispanics born in the United States were less likely than immigrant Hispanics to be dropouts (11.9 and 12.5 percent for first generation and second generation or higher, respectively13). Regardless of recency of immigration, Hispanic youth were more likely to be dropouts than non-Hispanic youth.

    Seven percent of 16- through 24-year-olds who identified as more than one race in 2003 were status dropouts, a rate lower than that of Hispanics and Blacks, but not measurably different from the rates for Whites (6.3 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islanders (3.9 percent) (table 6-A).
  • Status dropout rates by age: As might be expected, people ages 16 and 17 had lower status dropout rates in 2003 than 18- through 24-year-olds, at least in part because most 16- and 17-year-olds were still actively pursuing a high school diploma (table 6-A).14
  • Status dropout rates by region: In 2003, the South had a higher status dropout rate (11.4 percent) than each of the other three regions (table 6-A). The South also had a higher rate in 2002 than the other regions, and that year the West had a higher status dropout rate (10.4 percent) than the Midwest (9.0 percent) (table 6-B).

    The South also contained a disproportionately high percentage of the country's status dropouts. In 2003, while 35.4 percent of 16- through 24-year-olds lived in the South, 40.9 percent of all status dropouts lived there. In contrast, the Midwest was home to roughly 22.9 percent of the 16- through 24-year-old population and 20.8 percent of all status dropouts. Similarly, 18.4 percent of 16- through 24-year-olds lived in the Northeast but 15.6 percent of status dropouts lived there. The West was represented in the status dropout population in rough proportion to its share of the 16- through 24-year-old population. Results from 2002 followed a similar pattern except that the Northeast was also represented in the status dropout population in rough proportion to its representation in the overall population of 16- through 24-year-olds.


11 Because Asian/Pacific Islanders were not identified in earlier CPS collections and because of small sample sizes in some years, trends for Asian/Pacific Islanders are not examined.
12 The variable nature of the Hispanic status rate reflects, in part, the small sample of Hispanics in the CPS.
13 Individuals defined as "first generation" were born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia, and one or both of their parents were born outside the 50 states or the District of Columbia. Individuals defined as "second generation or higher" were born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia, as were both of their parents.
14 In 2003, the Current Population Survey shows high school enrollment rates by age group were 96.5 percent for 16-year-olds, 89.3 percent for 17-year-olds, 20.8 percent for 18-year-olds, 6.8 percent for 19-year-olds, and 1.1 percent for 20- through 24-year-olds (estimates not shown in tables).