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Dropout Rates in the United States: 2004

NCES 2007-024
November 2006

Selected Findings: 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 did not attend 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 2004, approximately 3.8 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 (table 6). These status dropouts accounted for 10.3 percent of the 36.5 million 16- through 24-year-olds in the United States in 2004.

    Among all individuals in this age group, status dropout rates declined between 1972 and 2004, from 14.6 percent to 10.3 percent (figure 2 and table 7). Unlike event dropout rates, which have no general patterns between 1990 and 2004, status rates declined over this period.

  • Status dropout rates by sex: Males ages 16–24 were more likely than females to be high school status dropouts in 2004 (11.6 percent compared with 9.0 percent) (table 6).
  • Status dropout rates by race/ethnicity: The status dropout rate of Whites remained lower than that of Blacks in 2004, but over the past three decades the difference between Whites and Blacks has narrowed (figure 2 and table 8). The narrowing of the Black-White gap occurred during the 1980s, with no measurable change during the 1970s or between 1990 and 2004.

    In 2004, Asian/Pacific Islanders ages 16–24 were less likely to be status dropouts than Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics in this age group.13 The percentage of Hispanics ages 16–24 who were dropouts was consistently higher than that of Blacks and Whites throughout this 32-year period (1972–2004; 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 6.8 percent and the rates for Blacks declined from 21.3 to 11.8 percent. Between 1972 and 2004, Hispanic status dropout rates have fluctuated considerably but also have demonstrated a long-term decline, falling from 34.3 to 23.8 percent.14 Hispanics also experienced a downward trend in status dropout rates in the more recent period between 1990 and 2004.

    In 2004, 38.4 percent of Hispanic 16- through 24-year-olds born outside of the United States were high school status dropouts (table 6). Hispanics born in the United States were less likely than immigrant Hispanics to be dropouts (14.7 and 13.7 percent for first generation and second generation or higher, respectively15). Regardless of recency of immigration, Hispanic youth were more likely to be dropouts than non-Hispanic youth.16

    Approximately 6 percent of 16- through 24-year-olds who self-identified as being more than one race in 2004 were status dropouts, a rate lower than that of Hispanics and Blacks, but not measurably different from the rates for Whites (6.8 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islanders (3.6 percent) (table 6).17

  • Status dropout rates by age: As might be expected, people ages 16 and 17 had lower status dropout rates in 2004 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).18
  • Status dropout rates by region: In 2004, the West and the South had higher status dropout rates (12.2 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively) than the Northeast and Midwest (8.8 percent and 8.0 percent, respectively) (table 6).

    The West and the South also contained disproportionately high percentages of the country’s status dropouts. In 2004, while 22.7 percent of 16- through 24-year-olds lived in the West, 26.9 percent of all status dropouts lived there. Similarly, 35.3 percent of 16- through 24-year-olds lived in the South compared with 39.1 percent of status dropouts. In contrast, the Midwest was home to roughly 23.0 percent of the 16- through 24-year-old population and 17.8 percent of all status dropouts. Similarly, 19.0 percent of 16- through 24-year-olds lived in the Northeast but 16.3 percent of status dropouts lived there. As discussed earlier in this section, it is not appropriate to consider these rates as reflecting the performance of schools in each of the regions.


13 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.

14 The variable nature of the Hispanic status rate reflects, in part, the small sample of Hispanics in the CPS.

15 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.

16 Additional tables available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007024 present more information about status dropout rates among Hispanic immigrants, including information about English proficiency and enrollment in U.S. schools.

17 Due to a small sample size, the standard error for students who identify with more than one race is relatively large, which makes the detection of statistically significant differences difficult.

18 In 2004, the Current Population Survey shows high school enrollment rates by age group were 94.4 percent for 16-year-olds, 89.1 percent for 17-year-olds, 28.1 percent for 18-year-olds, 5.2 percent for 19-year-olds, and 1.0 percent for 20- through 24-year-olds (estimates not shown in tables).