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Dropout Rates in The United States: 2002 and 2003

NCES 2008-053
September 2008

National Status Completion Rates

The status completion rate indicates the percentage of young people who have left high school and who hold a high school credential. The rate reported here is based on CPS data and represents the percentage of 18- through 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in high school and who have earned a high school diploma or equivalent credential, including a GED. The status completion rate includes individuals who may have completed their education outside of the United States, so the rate is not suited for measuring the performance of the education system in this country.

  • National status completion rates: In 2003, some 87.1 percent of 18- through 24-year-olds not enrolled in high school had received a high school diploma or equivalency credential (table 9-A).15 The status completion rates have increased slightly over the last three decades (figure 3 and table 10). 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 1990, the rate has shown no consistent trend, with a low of 84.8 percent in 1998 and a high of 87.1 percent in 2003.
  • National estimate of 18- through 24-year-olds with diplomas: The status completion rate reported above includes students who earned an equivalency credential. However, differences between GED recipients and diploma recipients suggest that GED holders fare significantly worse than diploma holders in terms of income and completing postsecondary education (Tyler 2003). Because the method of high school completion is of interest, data from the GED Testing Service (GEDTS) were used to estimate the number of 18- through 24-year-olds in 2002 who had passed the GED exam.16 This information was then used to estimate the percentage of individuals ages 18-24 with a regular high school diploma. The results indicate approximately 1.8 million 18- through 24-year-olds in 2002 had passed the GED exam (data not shown in tables).17 This represented 7.0 percent of people in this age range who were no longer in elementary or secondary school. Subtracting this percentage from the 2002 status completion rate of 86.6 percent suggests that approximately 79.6 percent of this age group held a regular diploma.18
  • Status completion rates by race/ethnicity: In 2003, among 18- through 24-year-olds not currently enrolled in high school, Asian/Pacific Islanders had a higher status completion rate (94.9) than Whites, Blacks and Hispanics (91.9 percent, 85.0 percent, and 69.2 percent, respectively) (table 9-A). In addition, Whites and individuals who identified as more than one race (91.7 percent) were more likely than their Black or Hispanic peers to have completed high school.

    Status completion rates for both Whites and Blacks increased between 1972 and 1990, and again between 1990 and 2003 (figure 3 and table 11). Between 1972 and 1990, the status completion rates for Hispanics exhibited no trend, but since 1990 they have increased, from 59.1 percent to 69.2 percent to 2003.

    In 2003, about half of foreign-born Hispanics ages 18-24 who were not currently enrolled in high school had completed high school (53.1 percent) (table 9-A). Status completion rates were higher for Hispanics born in the United States (82.4 percent for first generation and 84.1 percent for second or higher generations), although in each immigrant category Hispanics were less likely to have earned a high school credential than non-Hispanics.
  • Status completion rates by sex: Females ages 18-24 who were not enrolled in high school in 2003 were more likely than males to have completed high school, 89.2 versus 85.1 percent (table 9-A).
  • Status completion rates by region: Consistent with status dropout data by region, 18- through 24-year-olds in the South had a lower status completion rate (84.9 percent) than their contemporaries in other regions of the country: 87.2 percent in the West, 88.4 percent in the Midwest, and 89.6 in the Northeast (table 9-A). It is not appropriate to consider these rates as reflecting the performance of schools in each of the regions. There are a number of reasons why the rates cannot be used to directly evaluate school system performance including lack of controls for migration and immigration.


15 Considering all 18- through 24-year-olds, irrespective of enrollment status, 82.5 percent held a high school credential in October 2003 (estimates not shown in tables).
16 GEDTS data for 2003 were not available in time for this report.
17 These 1.8 million persons who were 18-24 years old in 2002 passed the GED exam between the years 1996 and 2002.
18 See appendix A of this report for details of this calculation.